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Volume 2

Journal of

Saswati Halder (Coordinator)
Chandreyee Niyogi (Joint Coordinator)
Rudrani Gangopadhyay
Pramantha Mohan Tagore

Kush Sengupta
Sritama Chatterjee

Adrija Ghosh

Introduction ........................................................................................
Abstracts .............................................................................................
The Spectral Plate: Fixing the Unreal in ‘Mark Stafford’s Wife’
Christina Maria Mirza ..........................................................................
Ayesha: Icon of ‘Morphologic Alterity’ in Rider Haggard's She
Anne Herbert .......................................................................................
Of Alternative Dimensions: Flatland and the Victorian Worldview
Debarati Bandyopadhyay ....................................................................
Supernatural Soliciting?: Vestiges of Gothic Horror, Fantasy and the
Supernatural in Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘Barbara of
the House of Grebe’
Oindrila Ghosh .....................................................................................
Truth to Nature: Charting social time through Narration in The
Woman in White
Sabrina Gilchrist ..................................................................................
Those Dreadful Victorians - Penny Dreadful as Neo-Victorian
Speculative Fiction
Alison Halsall ......................................................................................
Subhasinir Katha
Rakhi Mitra ..........................................................................................
Notes on the Authors ...........................................................................


We are proud to present the 2nd volume of The Confidential Clerk, an online journal
published annually by the Centre for Victorian Studies, Jadavpur University. Interdisciplinary,
international and innovative, the journal is broadly concerned with scholarship, new research and
a keen understanding of nineteenth century literary history and theory.
The current issue is a collection of original and unpublished research papers on
‘Realizing the Unreal: Victorian Speculative Fiction in Context’, from researchers and
academicians all over the world. The issue focuses on Victorian speculative fiction and its
generic, thematic, historical, and cultural contexts. Victorian speculative fiction is usually
described as ‘a flight from the real’; but we have selected submissions that go beyond this
understanding to show how the Victorian imagination engages with the unreality of the real or
creates alternative realities of the unreal in different forms of speculative fiction.
Christina Maria Mirza’s paper The Spectral Plate: Fixing the Unreal in ‘Mark
Stafford’s Wife,’ looks into the changing nature of truth and reality in the nineteenth century,
due to the rise of photography. The paper analyzes the redefinition of the ghost in Charlotte
Mew’s short stories through the lens of psychology and photography.
Anne Herbert takes us to a tour of Africa, the ‘Dark Continent’ and the mother of many
speculative fictions in the nineteenth century. Her paper, Ayesha: Icon of ‘Morphologic
Alterity’ in Rider Haggard's She, looks into post-Darwinian configurations of monstrosity in
nineteenth century psyche. The notion of Africa is problematized and rhetorically shaped as a
threatening icon of ‘monstrous alterity’ to explore the contemporary social problems.
Debarati Bandyopadhyay’s paper Of Alternative Dimensions: Flatland and the
Victorian Worldview, investigates how the contemporary ideas of time and space are
transcended in Edwin Abbott’s novel Flatland, in order to construct a view of a world that is
almost extra-real in its essence. The paper also anticipates Einstein’s theory of relativity and
mathematics. The author tries to understand how the seemingly disparate worlds of utopia and
dystopia coalesce to subvert as well as complement existing paradigms of knowledge, power and
Oindrila Ghosh’s paper on Supernatural Soliciting?: Vestiges of Gothic Horror,
Fantasy and the Supernatural in Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘Barbara of
the House of Grebe,’ deals with Hardy’s usage of gothic, superstition, local rituals and ghosts in
his prose fiction. She weaves a colourful tapestry around Hardy’s interest in evolutionary biology,

degeneration and eugenics to understand the socio-cultural milieu which had influenced the
literary narratives.
Sabrina Gilchrist’s paper titled Truth to Nature: Charting social time through
Narration in The Woman in White, traces the emergence of social time and discusses how the
new narratological strategy in Collins’ The Woman in White, not only disrupts the idea of a linear
time-frame but also helps the readers to engage with the text in a more holistic way. She argues
that this narratological structure appears to reflect mid-nineteenth century technological advances
and historical events that prompted Victorians to rethink their constructions of linear timelines
and, therefore, narrative structure. Her fresh insights into the nature of ‘truth’ and ‘history’
further problematize our understanding of Victorian imagination of time.
Alison Halsall in Those Dreadful Victorians - Penny Dreadful as Neo-Victorian
Speculative Fiction, looks at the particular ‘dreadfulness’ associated with the


century in Neo-Victorian speculative fictions, specifically Showtime’s recent horror television
series Penny Dreadful (2014). The paper shows how Showtime’s Penny Dreadful refocuses its
fantastical approach to the nineteenth century by depicting the mythical creatures and
supernatural entities (vampires, werewolves, demons, devils) who perambulate the foggy streets
of 1891 London, alongside characters from some of Victorian literature’s most sensationalist
Rakhi Mitra looks into the speculative elements in Tagore’s short fiction Subha. Her
paper, Subhashini-r Katha discusses the inarticulate thoughts of a mute woman named
Subhasini. The author explores the constraints of vocal articulation and questions the
epistemological supremacy of speech. In fact, the paper deconstructs the notion of speech as a
marker of reality and adds richness to what qualifies as speculative fiction.
It is hoped that this issue on Victorian Speculative fiction would offer us alternative ways
to look at the existing socio-cultural apparatus and to engage in a conversation with the past and
the future.
Happy reading!


The Spectral Plate: Fixing the Unreal in ‘Mark Stafford’s Wife’
- Christina Maria Mirza

The literary fashion for the ghost story at the end of the nineteenth century intersected
with a growing interest in other modes of perceiving and understanding reality and the human
mind which evidenced itself in the fascination with the spirit world, the occult, and the
psychic, the rise of psychiatry and the discipline of psychology, and the emergence of new
technology such as photography, the phonograph, the telegraph and the telephone. Gothic
fiction exploited the new forms of knowledge available to reinvent the thrill of the uncanny
even while technology appeared to provide new ways to document and interrogate the
supernatural itself.

The rise of photography in the nineteenth century, which coincided with the rise of
realism, it has been argued, changed the way the Victorians experienced reality. The dialogue
between the art of photography and realistic fiction influenced techniques of representation.
Nineteenth century photographic discourse insisted on the camera as a recorder of ‘truth’
which could also provide insight into character. Early employed as a tool in the study of
mental illness by psychiatrists like Henry Welch Diamond, the representational authority of
the photograph was exploited by spirit photographers to provide documentary proof of the
existence of psychic entities invisible to the ordinary human eye. Spirit photography focalizes
the paradox of photography itself: at once an instrument for scientific inquiry into the visible
world reduced to documented images and an uncanny, almost magical process that could
capture the invisible.

Glancing briefly at turn of the century stories like Richard Marsh’s ‘The Photographs’
which incorporate photography into the machinery of the gothic, my article will discuss how
photography, and in particular spirit photography, shapes the language of fiction in Charlotte
Mew’s short story, ‘Mark Stafford’s Wife.’ The narrator of ‘Mark Stafford’s Wife’ is an
amateur photographer and her idiom abounds in metaphors drawn from the art of

photography. Written in the realistic mode, the story describes the narrator’s attempts to
fathom the elusive Kate Stafford whose ‘delusion’ of a shapeless horror staring persistently
into her soul suggests both mental illness and supernatural haunting. The narrator speaks of
the living Kate as though she were a spectral presence to be photographed and attempts to
‘fix’ Kate’s character in a language that borrows heavily from spirit photography. On
developing the plate of the one photograph of her that is taken before her sudden and
mysterious death there appears, however, the spectral face of her husband, Mark Stafford,
who was in town that day. In this instance of speculative short fiction the image produced by
the camera both captures and problematizes the ‘real.

Ayesha: Icon of "Morphologic Alterity" in Rider Haggard's She
- Anne Herbert

Thomas Richards argues that "at the height of Darwinism in late-Victorian Britain,
writers began to imagine a great variety of monsters that fell outside the sureties of lineage
enshrined in morphology." He observes that narrative representations of these morphologic
anomalies tended to destabilize and disrupt "the very order of things, even threatening to bring
about the end of Empire." In this essay, I explore H. Rider Haggard's fictive participation in the
discourse of this cultural phenomenon, She, and argue that Ayesha functions as an icon of what
Richards refers to as "morphologic alterity," which threatens to disrupt the Imperialist ideology
of Empire and the hierarchal order of Victorian culture in the late 19th century.
In She, woman's body -- Ayesha's "proud Imperial form" -- bears the semiotic burden of
the eroticized Imperialist ethos and functions both as its rationalizing agent and as arbiter of the
cultural anxieties and racial, caste/class ambivalences it generates,
Horace Holly, who is acutely averse yet attracted to Ayesha.

articulated in the novel by

Moreover, my contention in this

paper is that the narrative configuration of the racially ambiguous ("white" yet Arabic) Ayesha as
the eroticized embodiment of the Imperialist ethos also effects a complex immanent critique of
imperialism. This semiotically dense critique is mediated through Holly, whose acute
ambivalence toward Ayesha (SHE Who-Must-Be-Obeyed) is generated not only on the level of
the male/female power binary fear of penetration, which several critics have noted, but also on
two other levels:

the destabilizing resonances of racist fear of miscegenation, as well as the

Victorian "gentleman's" engagement with the epistemology of entropy and its unsettling
implications for the disintegration of the foundational order of

Empire. In a narrative heavily

invested in the discourse of 19th century African exploration and expansionism, I argue that the
configuration of Ayesha as a colonizing imperialist in relation to the "bastard" race of
Amahaggers also deploys the discourse of narratives of social exploration in currency in late
Victorian London, such as Andrew Means' The Bitter Cry of Outcast London (1883) and
William Booth's In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890). Within this narrative context,
Ayesha is rhetorically shaped as a threatening icon of "monstrous alterity" that registers the
anxieties engendered by racism and caste/class as it adumbrates the entropic erosion of the
Imperial Empire.

Of Alternative Dimensions: Flatland and the Victorian Worldview
- Debarati Bandyopadhyay

Victorian speculative fiction, tangentially placed vis-à-vis the real world, provided ideas of
other possible modes of existence in the same space but along a different time-frame (courtesy
H.G.Wells) or the same period with exploration of unknown space (as in the works of Jules
Verne) rather imaginatively. However, not only the concept of these alternative modes of
existence in Victorian culture, but also the works of speculative fiction in which they could be
found would succeed in critiquing contemporary socio-political and cultural conventions quite
effectively. Hence, while Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea could ascribe superior
scientific and technological knowledge and expertise to the non-white, Professor Challenger’s
expedition to the lost world, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s twentieth-century work would
simultaneously criticise human behaviour and extol any virtue that managed to shine through in
times of distress. The oscillation in these narratives, between the virtuous narrator from the
period and the meritorious ‘other’ elsewhere would effectively highlight the good, the ugly and
the evil inherent in the idea of Victorian England. Keeping in mind this Victorian worldview in
the works of speculative fiction of the period, the proposed paper will read Edwin Abbott
Abbott’s Flatland (1884) as interestingly positioned to move beyond contemporary ideas of
space and time, with the idea of alternative dimensions emerging as a pioneering thought. While
the lack of logical solutions to questions about the Flatlanders’ physiological processes prevent

critics from reading Flatland as a work of science fiction, the preponderance of fantasy in
presenting a fictional account of alternative dimensions makes this work essential reading in the
history of speculative fiction. Abbott’s mathematical speculation, presented as fiction,
anticipated Einstein’s findings and earned his acknowledgement even as it remained a potent
critique of Victorian mores.

‘Supernatural Soliciting’?: Vestiges of Gothic Horror, Fantasy and the Supernatural
in Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’
- Oindrila Ghosh
As an architect by profession the association of the term ‘Gothic’ with Thomas
Hardy hardly seems problematic, what remains problematic however is its usage in and
implications for his fiction. Yet his novels and short stories are punctuated by the vestiges of
gothic horror, supernatural elements and even the germs of science-fiction. We cannot
dismiss Hardy's literary use of Gothic conventions. Although several critics and biographers
have indicated his interest in the Gothic and even the Gothicism of some of his minor works,
no thorough analysis of the aesthetic use of Gothic conventions in Thomas Hardy's shorter
fiction has yet been done. Rather, Hardy the writer has been criticized severely for
sensationalism and awkwardness in his fiction. Few studies till date have examined the
Gothicism of his novels and shorter fiction as a key to understanding his fictional technique
and artistic vision. His novels, such as The Return of the Native are interspersed with record
of rural customs, superstitions and gothic elements embedded in Dorset folklore, so also Tess
of the D’Urbervilles and the strange curse of her forefathers which hounds Tess all her life.
In my paper I would concentrate on the continuing use of the gothic, supernatural and
fantasy in Hardy’s fiction, especially the short stories, right from the beginning of his literary
career, unearthing Hardy’s use of Gothic features such as doubles, spectres and ghosts,
concentrating on Three stories—‘The Withered Arm’, ‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’ and
‘An Imaginative Woman’. In ‘The Withered Arm’, Hardy exploits a universal fascination for
evil and horror, also known as the gothic or grotesque. The blighting of Gertrude's arm, the
character of the conjuror Trendle and his use of "magic" in the macabre cure of "turning the
blood" (touching the scorched neck of a hanged man) all add a gory aspect to this tale. The
story revolves around a blight caused by a succubus unleashed by a living person’s
jealousies. Like in ‘A Withered Arm’ Barbara, in the famous story form ‘a Group of Noble
Dames’, is subjected to the cruel, sadist and punitive practice of her aristocratic husband
Lord Uplandtowers, who compels her to view the mutilated statue of her former husband
whose Adonis-like handsomeness still enthralled Barbara’s heart. The horrors of the vision
leave Barbara the wreck of her former self and she wastes away after repeated miscarriages.

Collins’ Temporal Setting: Charting Time through Narration in The Woman in White
- Sabrina Gilchrist
Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859-1860) fixates on the “right” time: the timing of
the crime for the villainous Count Fosco, the knowledge of the timing of events for the heroic
Walter Hartright to uncover the truth, and the enumerative narratological viewpoints within the
book to incorporate multiple perspectives of time.

In order to learn the truth of Fosco’s crime,

Hartright plans to “trace the course of one complete series of events, by making the persons who
have been most closely connected with them, at each successive stage, relate their own
experience, word for word.” Collins’ use of these multiple narratological lenses reveals a
simultaneous desire for precision coupled with the uncertainty and discomfort about what the
“true” time is. This emphasis on an ultimate timeline was likely influenced by two significant
social changes that occurred concerning the tracking and recording of time: more historical
accounts were being published and read by a wider audience, and England was rapidly changing
from multiple distinct local times to standardized time. My argument, then, is that the
convergence of these two historical moments—the standardization of time and the influx of
varied historical accounts—appears to have influenced Victorian authors, particularly in their
structural and narratological choices.

In the nineteenth century, there was a surge in the demand for publications about history
(largely due to wider education and an increase of literary rates). However, the publication of
multiple historical texts created disparate versions of each historical event.

Therefore, Victorian

readers were forced to determine which account was most accurate or blend together pieces of
different historical accounts as a means to better understand the timeline of the event.

A second major shift in Victorians’ concepts of time came in the 1840s when England
rapidly switched from local times to standardized time, a change triggered by train schedules
using GMT. The necessity and synchronization of standardized time prompted, as Eviatar
Zerubavel argued, a shift from a “summary of individual experiences, which are of value only
for the person who experiences them” to a “category of time…[that is] common to the group, a
social time” (2).

I propose that this new sense of ”social”/communal time influences a trend of

incorporating multiple narrators in Victorian literature.

Much like popular Victorian clocks

with two different minute hands (one for local time, the other for standard time), each narrator
provides a new vantage point of viewing the timeline of the story—each moving independently,
yet reflecting the same moment.

By setting The Woman in White during 1849, Collins allows us to examine some of the
different ramifications of the emergence of social time. In this essay, I will emphasize how his
new narratological form prompted readers simultaneously to look both forwards and backwards
through multiple historical timelines to create a more accurate thread of events in a new
communal narrative/history. In other words, Collins’ new narrative technique disrupted the
traditionally accepted linear timeline, prompting his audience to question more critically the
potentially unreliable narrators and engage with a historical text using communal time. This
narratological structure appears to reflect mid-nineteenth century technological advances and
historical events that prompted Victorians to rethink their constructions of linear timelines and,
therefore, narrative structure.

Those “dreadful” Victorians – Penny Dreadful as Neo-Victorian Speculative Fiction
- Alison Halsall

This paper proposes to look at the particular “dreadfulness” associated with the
nineteenth century in Neo-Victorian speculative fictions, specifically Showtime’s recent
horror television series Penny Dreadful (2014).

Gruesome violence and shocking sexual

themes are very much de rigueur in Neo-Victorian speculative texts, Penny Dreadful in

Non-normative and alternative sexualities, not to mention monstrous and

supernatural creatures from Victorian fiction showcase a distinctly different and entirely
fantastical vision of those reportedly stodgy Victorians.

In a different category altogether

than John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman with its painstaking attention given to
Victorian detail, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful refocuses its fantastical approach to the
nineteenth century by depicting the mythical creatures and supernatural entities (vampires,
werewolves, demons, devils) who perambulate the foggy streets of 1891 London alongside
characters from some of Victorian literature’s most sensationalist stories.

Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is Neo-Victorian speculative fiction, as I will argue in
this paper, in terms of its project and its content.

Its very title takes its inspiration from

low-brow literature of the time, predominantly sensational literature popularly characterized
as “horrible” and “awful,” and in so doing releases itself from serious questions of historical
and literary accuracy.

It reinterprets classic literary creations freely by mediating them

through a-typical genres, horror and supernatural thriller, revisiting canonical works of Gothic
and Aesthetic fiction as sensational subject matter populated by the mythical creatures and
supernatural entities of speculative fiction.

It thus populates an authentic-seeming Victorian

present with re-deployed figures from Victorian fiction (Victor Frankenstein) and iconic
figures from Victorian society (the prostitute, the spinster/clairvoyant, the American cowboy,
the colonialist adventurer, the slave trader, and the Aesthete) in its fantastical recreation of the
nineteenth century.

Penny Dreadful fastens upon the late nineteenth century not because it

is heavily invested in capturing the elusive “real” of the Victorian period, but because it
relishes in the period as it is popularly re-imagined in the twenty-first century, relying on
stereotypes and popular details about the period and its literatures, and enjoying the
sensationalism of it in the process. Historical authenticity quickly gives way to the tantalizing
sexual spectacle of speculative fiction that tells us more about our twenty-first-century sexual
preoccupations than about the Victorian present proper.

Dorian Gray’s BDSM sequence

with Brona Croft, the prostitute, capitalizes on the furor ignited by Fifty Shades of Grey,
while blowing away any conception of Victorian prudery.

Spinster / clairvoyant Vanessa

Ives’ horrifying possession during Madame Kali’s séance is more reminiscent of The Exorcist
than of tales of possession in the nineteenth century, once again reimagining the conception
of the Victorian period as somehow staid.

In this regard, the “dreadful” of Penny Dreadful

renders the delicious paradoxes of the nineteenth century as distinctly salacious food for
modern viewers.

If regarded as an “authentic” vision of the nineteenth century, this Neo-Victorian
example of speculative fiction would certainly be considered “dreadful.”
the point.

That is simply not

The spectacle of “dreadful” is, and that is how this show is an example of

Neo-Victorian speculative fiction.

The Spectral Plate: Fixing the Unreal in “Mark Stafford’s Wife”
Christina Maria Mirza

The rise of photography in the nineteenth century created a popular photographic
discourse which valorized and mythologized the special ability of the medium to “fix” reality
with absolute authority. The new technology, it was widely recognized, offered a significant
advantage over the arts in the scientific objectivity of its image-making. Thus the photographic
image provided a special access to truth. Both the popular and the professional imagination
credited the camera eye with a superior intelligence and insight into character which, as certain
Victorian psychiatrists claimed, made it an invaluable tool in the study of the individual and the
processes of the mind. At the same time, the great sensitivity of the photographic plate, which
could capture things invisible to the human eye, and the quasi-magical element of the
photographic processitself allied the medium with spirit photography and the occult.These
underlying assumptions in the early era of the photograph presented photography as not merely a
new mode of “fixing” reality but also a special vantage point for investigation and insight which
could be adopted by the writer concerned with the complexities of perception and representation
and with the intricacies of the human mind. Charlotte Mew’s short story, “Mark Stafford’s Wife”
(1905), is an interesting example of the way in which photographic discourse shaped the
language of fiction and fashioned the role of narrator/author as photographer. While the
photograph is absorbed into the machinery of Mew’s Gothic tale, technology becomes a means
of both representing and problematizing reality. Further, Mew’s exploitation of spirit
photography allows an investigation of gender issues central to the woman writer.


Since its invention in 1839 with the daguerreotype, photography had become increasingly
the new mode of documenting reality. Not only did the new medium provide a means of “fixing”
reality with mirror-like faithfulness, it also influenced the way in which the Victorians viewed
reality. Cultural historians have demonstrated the centrality of technologies of the visual in
shaping the way the Victorians experienced the world. Nineteenth century optical inventions
such as the camera lucida, the graphic telescope, the photographic camera, the binocular
telescope, the binocular microscope, the stereopticon and the kinetoscope, changed the way
reality was perceived, projected and recorded (Christ and Jordan xix). Jonathan Crary points out
that these optical devices are “points of intersection where philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic
discourses overlap” (8). Exploring the connection between fiction and photography, Nancy
Armstrong notes that “the novel’s turn to pictorialism coincided with the sudden ubiquity of
photographic images in the culture at large” ( 37) and that Victorian fiction began to offer “visual
description as the most direct access to the real” (38). The reciprocal dialogue that developed
between the two furnished the realistic writer with new stylistic techniques and metaphors. The
“Westminster Review,” for instance, was early to make the connection between the “mirror like
narrations” of Thackeray and the “permanent mirrors” of photography (“Thackeray as Novelist
and Photographer” 15).
Despite its alliance with nineteenth century realism, however, the photograph from its
very inception was linked in the literary and popular imagination with a kind of magic. Human
agency in the photographic process was limited. Early pioneers of the form like Nicéphore
Niépce referred to the process as “heliography” or “sun-writing” and Fox Talbot called the
camera “the pencil of nature.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for instance, wrote delightedly to a
friend on viewing daguerreotypes for the first time:
Think of a man sitting down in the sun and leaving his facsimile in all its full
completion of outline and shadow, steadfast on a plate, at the end of a minute and

a half! The Mesmeric disembodiment of spirits strikes one as a degree less
marvelous … (2).
Susan Sontag points out that some of that early sense of magic remains for the photograph,
unlike the painting, is not merely an image or interpretation of the real; it is “a trace, something
directly stenciled off the real”:
… a photograph is never less than the registering of an emanation (light waves
reflected by objects) – a material vestige of its subject in a way that no painting
can be … (80-81).
The developing mythology of the camera also credited it with the extraordinary power of
capturing not merely the image of the individual but the “essence” of his character. The
American daguerreotypist, James F. Ryder, personified his box camera, describing the lens as the
“soul” with “an all-seeing eye”:
No misrepresentations, no deceits, no equivocations …What he saw was faithfully
reported, exact, and without blemish. He could read and prove character in a
man’s face at sight (qtd. in Rudisill 76).
Working in the belief that mental states are manifested in the physiognomy of the patient and
that the external manifestations of passion provided clear indication of internal derangement, Dr.
Hugh Welch Diamond, superintendent of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum (1848-1858) and a
member of the Photographic Society of London, created a catalogue of photographs of his
patients for the purpose of diagnosis, classification and treatment. Diamond presented himself as
psychiatrist in terms of a photographer who:
… catches in a moment the permanent cloud, or the passing storm or
sunshine of the soul, and thus enables the metaphysician to witness and trace
out the connexion between the visible and the invisible (qtd. in Green-Lewis

The dual character of photography, at once an instrument for scientific inquiry into the
material world and an uncanny, almost magical process, was exploited by the so-called spirit
photographers of the later nineteenth century who sought to provide documentary proof of the
existence of psychic entities invisible to the ordinary human eye. Coinciding with the rise of
Spiritualism, which countered the materialistic atheism of the age with the assertion of the reality
of spirits and the possibility of communion between the human and the spirit world, the first
“authentic” spirit photograph was taken by the American, William Mumler, in 1861. Mumler’s
success – and notoriety – led to the great interest in the genre in England. As one editor of a
volume on the subject defined it:
The term “spirit photographs” is generally used to describe photographs of
psychic entities who cannot be seen by ordinary persons, but can be photographed
by a medium, or with the help of a medium, and with the cooperation of these
unseen entities (Glendinning v-vi).
Six such categories are described: pictures of psychical entities not seen by normal vision;
pictures of objects not seen nor thought of by the sitter or by the medium or the operator; pictures
which appear to have been copied from art; pictures of “materialised forms”; pictures of the
“wraith” or “double” of persons still in the body; and portraits on plates invisible to the normal
eye but seen by clairvoyants and mediums when in trance (vi-vii). There were, however, also
instances of accidental spirit photography where amateur photographers discovered spectral
presences or “extras” in their photographs. The spectral images obtained in spirit photography
were often blurred and misty but in others, the ghosts as much as the living human sitters, appear
to be consciously posing for the camera (Harvey 60). Though usually recognizable as deceased
relatives of the sitters, sensitive photographers often discovered extras that neither they nor their
sitters could identify. In several such psychic photographs the spirits appear as disembodied
faces surrounded by a kind of vaporous aureole. Some depict spirits clad in ethereal drapery
whereas others have manifestations in recognizably contemporary costume. In some photographs

the spectre is superimposed on the sitter’s body; in others, the spectral face or figure hangs
wistfully in the background or with a ghostly hand placed upon the shoulder of the oblivious
sitter in an attitude of consolation or reassurance.
The evidence and implications of spirit photography were investigated, among other
psychical phenomena, by the Society for Psychical Research whose deliberations, conducted in
the spirit of enlightened scientific enquiry,were published in compendious tomes. Whereas
previously the testimonial of witnesses had been the only way of documenting the supernatural,
photography now provided a means of recording such visitations and apparitions towards a
rationalized “Science of Ghosts” (Stead 14). Spirit photography thus shared with psychiatric
photography the larger aim of tracing “the connexion between the visible and the invisible.”
The vantage point of the camera came to represent a privileged position of authority and
insight which afforded new possibilities to the modern writer.Photography represented a mode of
seeing which allowed the author/narrator to record reality with truthful objectivityand to “focus”
and “fix” character, that is, to represent and thus to study character and the mind, so that the
author/narratorwas both faithful portraitist and psychiatrist. In addition, the perspective of the
“sensitive” photographer also provided a special magical vision into the plane of the
otherworldly invisible to the ordinary human eye.
This framework is useful in examining Mew’s technique in “Mark Stafford’s Wife,” a
short story which provides a case study for realistic fiction based on the perceptual model and
stylistic paradigm represented by photography. Mew’s narrator, an amateur photographer, usurps
the language and the special vision of photography, often presenting key moments in
photographic terms.


When the narrator of “Mark Stafford’s Wife” finds herself duenna to the enigmatic Kate
Relton, a young woman of “remarkable attraction and substantial fortune”, it is to the idiom of
portrait photography that she turns in an attempt to define hercharge. She is perplexedly aware
that while Kateis “a perfect copy” of her beautiful dead mother “the likeness ended with her
face.” The tranquility of her demeanour seems a screen for the hidden flame within. Looking
beyond her “pose” of gay indifference the narrator glimpses the “real,” “excessively romantic”
Kate Relton (170). Identifying as much as capturing that “pose” the narrator adopts the narrative
mode of photographer, a method, as we have seen, particularly suited in the discourse of the age
to the presentation and analysis of character. Kate, who is self-consciously aware of herself as a
photographic object, enjoys “posing” for the charismatic author, Mark Stafford. The literary
artist is here explicitly compared to a portraitist: “Do you mean to say he will have the assurance
to put you down in black and white?” (174).The narrator’s description of the artistic process is as
suited to literature as it is to photography though she does not otherwise approve of Stafford’s
style. A novelist in the naturalistic school, the “impartiality” credited to the camera eye is in his
case “pitiless.” He is too much “the vivisectionist at work; the man with the knife,” a “literary
surgeon” rather than a “literary artist” (172-173).
The narrator’s scrutiny of Kate’s “bright” and “unnatural sanity” in bereavement amounts
to that of a psychiatrist. Ruling out the “fashionable curse of nerves,” she determines that though
Kate is “beautifully sound” it is the soundness of “flawless glass” with a “frailness” that will
simply “break” under a strain (171). The smiling façade, she learns, is the result both of an
extraordinary self-control and a delight in mystification. Kate has a deeply private, independent
core: “I must be myself and stay myself and belong, in a fashion, to myself alone” (174). In a
half-jesting twist on the Bluebeard story, she says that even after her marriage, “whoever owns
the poor little house, there must be rooms of which, to the end, I keep the key” (174). Aware that
she intrigues Stafford, for whom “the passion of the chase” lies in the hope of “pure discovery,”
she yet believes herself to be as elusive as the Snark in Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem, The

Hunting of the Snark (1876). Kate is a fairytale tale creature belonging to the type of the
archetypically wild, magical women of the ballads of Mary E. Coleridge and Rosamund Marriott
Watson that Mew develops in her later poem “The Farmer’s Bride.”
Both the narrator and Stafford have recourse to a language which suggests the spectral
and references the lore of the faerie in their descriptions of Kate. From the very outset the
narrator faces difficulties in actually “fixing” Kate, admitting that there is something not quite
real about her: “she gave a hint of unreality, or rather of intangibility” (170). She seems, in fact,
“to hang between two worlds” (170). The narrator’s descriptions suggest that Kate is caught
between the worlds of ordinary reality and the otherworldly, a ghostly figure with “a vague
companionship with spirits of a lighter air” (180), an idiom which derives from the language of
spirit photography. Scrutinizing Kate as though looking at a spirit photograph, the narrator seeks
vainly for the “spectre” in the background, aware of “some intention in the picture missed.”
(170).1 She is surrounded by “a vague atmosphere of mist” (177) reminiscent of the “spirit fog”
that frames photographed spectres. A creature of dreams, she is clad in “gossamer” (170), an
image which suggests as much the translucent drapery of the ghostly extra as it does the fairy, for
closely allied to the Victorian interest in spirit photography was the desire to capture fairies on
camera. There is something more sinister, however, in Stafford’s description of her as a “shy,
reluctant fay” (181) who must be waited for “in a sense, in ambush” (177). Keeping discreetly
“in the shadow,” he seems to be constantly watching heras though in fact waiting “in ambush”
for her.The distrustful narrator, who has already experienced the subtly imposed “charm” or
“influence” of his powerful mind, has no doubt of his ability to “swoop” upon his prey (173).
As Stafford’s “influence” begins to prevail over Kate she gives the narrator the curious
impression of “a person listening and looking for something she hoped not to find, walking on


The allusion is to the puzzle prints of “The Shade of Napoleon Visiting his Tomb” extremely popular through the

nineteenth century. The curious shape of a pair of adjacent willow trees in these puzzle print creates the optical
illusion of a ghostly figure of Napoleon standing by his tomb.

tiptoe, opening and shutting doors” as though the rooms of her inner privacy had somehow been
invaded (175). It is at this time the narrator divines a “flaw” in her fine composure which
betokens a jarring of the machinery of her mind (175). Kate soon breaks off her engagement to
the unpretentious Charlie Darch. Affianced to Stafford, she seems “determinedly” to shake away
the mists, and emerges as “an intensely actual figure shining with a hard, new brightness” (180).
Kate is soon a greater social success than her famous husband, leading Stafford to observe that
the “fay” has been tempted into the “vulgarities” and “mortalities of daylight” (181). The
troubled narrator, however, whether with the vision of hindsight or with unconscious intuition,
presentsher as acted upon by psychic forces, a spirit materializingas at a medium’s call or
hypnotized by a mesmerist, “intimately held, detained by an influence” (182).
Matters come to a head at a house party for Stafford’s birthday at which the guests are to
be photographed in elaborate tableaux by the narrator. Kate, who in her beautiful composure is
completely unsuited to her pose as Ophelia, elicits Stafford’s remark that “Pure Reason” cannot
“condescend” to look distraught. He adds strangely, “She would be worth watching in a
panic …” (185). Kate is clearly as much an enigma to him as she ever was and Stafford, that
vivisectionist of character, is not satisfied. Yet, Kate’s remote serenity is a mask kept with
difficulty in place. That evening, for the first time, the narrator does win an outburst of passion
from Kate, who responds with hysterical randomness when questioned on her renewed
involvement with Darch:
Is even death itself the end? We can’t see – can’t possibly see – though we are
seen, and not by any means in a glass darkly. If one was sure – but nothing’s
sure – that there was at the close – deliverance from this awful light, this uplifting
darkness, that we are in the grip of – blind – blind stumblers – – ! (186)
In the grip of a terror that she strives desperately to conceal, Kate’s words, an allusion to Le
Fanu’s collection of supernatural tales, In a Glass Darkly (1872), indicate her sense of being

haunted.2 In the first of these stories, “Green Tea,” the clergyman, Mr. Jennings, having unsealed
the “inner eye” with too much drinking of green tea, suffers from “spectral illusions,” and
believes himself haunted by a spectral monkey who finally incites him to suicide. The narrator,
concerned only with Kate’s moral fall, misses her meaning, and concludes that she is merely
“run down” (187). It is Darch who extracts the “delusion” or “obsession” that is slowly
“shattering” her:
… there’s something, some shapeless horror, looking over her shoulder straight,
as she hideously persists, into her soul… She won’t say how long – she says
reluctantly – “some time” – – (188)
Both Darch and the narrator look upon Kate as mentally disturbed. Darch, however, blames
Stafford: “What is the key to the whole unthinkable change, if it’s not some blind instinct of
flight, of escape from some intolerable influence or atmosphere?” (189). Ironically, the narrator
fails to remark the concurrence of Darch’s remarks with her own observations. That very
afternoon, when Stafford is called up to town and the last of the tableaux are to be taken, Kate’s
consummate pretence at normality falters. Since she has forgotten her costume, the narrator
photographs her alone:
It seemed as if in this momentary presentment, for the first time since her
marriage she confronted me alone, cut off. She stood, to my sense, in a cleared,
hushed space, the center of a far-reaching muteness, indefinable and uninvaded by
the chattering crowd. (190)
It is the last time the narrator sees Kate for the next morning she learns that Kate has fled with
Darch. In a moment of vision she seesthe “elusive, receding images” of Kate and Darch slowly
“obscured” and “over-shadowed” by the image of Stafford (191).Going up to London to plead


The title of Sheridan Le Fanu’s collection, In a Glass Darkly (18), plays on the biblical passage describing the

limited quality of human vision, “For now we see through a glass, darkly …” (I Corinthians 13:12).

her case, she discovers that Katehas “saved herself,” as Stafford unemotionally puts it, “by
dying” (192).

It is some weeks later, on developing the photograph of Kate, that the narrator finds
“evidence” of Kate’s “delusion.” On the plate, beside Kate’s face, twisting over her shoulder,
there emerges “the semblance of another face,” not initially either “human or recognizable,” but
gradually becoming “hideously distinct, monstrously familiar,” the face of her husband, Mark
Stafford (193). Aware that Stafford was absent when the photograph was taken, the narrator
realizes that the plate has recorded the “shapeless horror” that Kate had sensed looking over her
shoulder and into her soul. Frozen at first with horror, she flings the plate violently outside the
window where it shatters in pieces (193).
Mew’s story draws the photograph into the machinery of the Gothic where it functions
not only as a manifestation of the supernatural but as the visible “trace” and permanent residue of
a supernatural “reality” not visible to the ordinary eye. Our notion of the reality of the
phenomenal world is constructed through the information received through the senses. Scientific
experiments involving electric current, ultra-violet rays and fluorescence, for example, which
proved that the camera could photograph that which was invisible to the naked eye had already
problematized vision as the source of truth. Mew’s story addresses the possibility that we see
reality indeed as “in a glass darkly” for human vision is both limited and fallible. The
photographic plate becomes documentary evidence of the existence of a psychic plane of reality
to which we have ordinarily no access but which coexists with and affects our own. The plane of
spectral or psychic reality is available only to the “inner eye” or the camera’s sensitive plate.
There is much in the contemporary fascination with the occult which would support the
narrator’s finding. The sensitivity of the camera plate was established by science and exploited in
science fiction narratives of the period, while its occult sensitivity was proclaimed by spirit
photographers. In the spectral image of Stafford’s face Mew exploits the Gothic device of the

double or wraith, not as it traditionally appears in folklore as a premonition of imminent death or
as the result of a near death experience but, as revealed in occult lore, a transcorporeal projection
brought about by an act of will. H. P. Blavatsky, whose investigations led her to the occult
teachings of ancient Egypt and India, describes the “Thought Body,” one of three doubles
acknowledged by Theosophy, as “the vehicle both of thought and of the animal passions and
desires, drawing at one and the same time from the lowest terrestrial manas (mind) and Kama,
the element of desire” (“Dialogue between the Two Editors” 219). W. T. Stead in his immensely
popular collection, Real Ghost Stories, narrates the case of the society hostess who, studying the
occult side of Theosophy, cultivated the ability of going about in her “Thought Body.” Of “finer
matter than the gross fabric of our outward body,” the “Thought Body,”contained within and the
exact counterpart of the material body, is capable of sight, hearing and consciousness, is
independent of the laws of space and time, and can move with the swiftness of the mind (Stead
While Mew was close enough to Theosophist circles to have a story printed in The
Theosophist in 1914, she may also have come across the notion of the double in Egyptian lore
which enjoyed a great vogue at the fin-de-siècle. Mew, who researched extensively at the British
Museum, may have encountered the notion of the “Ka” or “Double” in a book on Egyptian Ideas
of the Future Life (1899) by Dr. Budge, Keeper of the Assyrian and Egyptian Antiquities at the
British Museum, or perhaps via Bram Stoker, who acknowledges Dr. Budge in his novel, Jewel
of Seven Stars (1903). The “Ka,” explains Budge, is the “abstract individuality or personality” of
an individual and endowed with all his characteristic attributes. Of absolutely independent
existence, it is free to wander at will over earth and heaven (Budge163-164). In Stoker’s novel,
Abel Trelawney describes the phenomenon of the projection of the astral body: “the gifted
individual can at will, quick as thought itself, transfer his body whithersoever he chooses, by the
dissolution and reincarnation of particles” (Stoker 219). It is in fact following the Staffords’
extended honeymoon in Egypt that the narrator begins to remark that Kate seems “hypnotized”

(181) and held by some strange “influence” (182). One may conjecture that Stafford, already
gifted with an almost uncanny ability to “influence” people and penetrate their minds, has
dabbled in the occult so as to effect the extension and perfection of his naturally formidable
powers. It is then inevitable that Stafford should turn this ability to study the one being that
eludes him and whom he has “ambushed” in vain, his wife.
While the story contains no direct suggestion that Stafford was responsible for his wife’s
death, the circumstances are in themselves mysterious and the narrator is afraid to learn the
manner of her death. Stafford explains her sudden demise as the result of a course of action too
violent and unnatural for her quiet nature: she simply “failed – and ended” (192). Blavatsky, in
an article published in The Theosophist, “Can the Double Murder?”, explains a case of
mysterious death as murder committed by the transcorporeally projected double or “mayavirupa” of a mesmeric subject. In the editorial comment which prefaces the article, Blavatsky
observes that death may result from “psychical causes” for a “mortal wound may be inflicted
upon the inner man without puncturing the epidermis” (Blavatsky 99).The sudden and
ambiguous manner of Kate’s death as well as Stafford’s chilling composure leave the conjecture
of psychical violence open. Her death, which affords Stafford a strange satisfaction, seems to
mark the completion of his “ambush” of her, granting him the insight he has never had. Looking
upon her face “fixed” in death, he sees “Kate herself” and remarks, “I could almost believe I had
never before seen her” (192).
Mew’s story plays with the Gothic motif of the sinister husband, evoking the shudder of
the uncanny or “unheimlich,” as Freud has analyzed it, precisely by locating it within the safe
space of the “heimlich,” the “familiar” or “homely.” For women writers, the formulas of the
Gothic provided a way of engaging with the anxiety, even the terror, of the home space and the
domestic ideal of marriage. In his seminal essay, “The Uncanny,” noting that “heimlich,” the
linguistic opposite of “unheimlich,” also means “secret” and “hidden,” Freud

observes, “Not only is heimlich a word the meaning of which develops towards an
ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich” (Freud 80) but “everything
is uncanny that ought to have remained hidden and secret, and yet comes to light” (Freud 79).
The photographic plate reveals the hidden terror of the home space through the spectral image of
the “monstrously familiar” face of Mark Stafford. It is Stafford’s almost vampiric preying on
Kate’s soul which is captured in the spectral image of his double on the plate, a metaphor for
both the surveillance and psychological violence inherent in their marriage. Mew’s story was
written against the background of heated debates on the marriage question. In 1903, the Society
for Promoting Reforms in the Marriage and Divorce Laws of England was founded, and by 1909
a Royal Commission was appointed. There was much arguing over greater liberalization in the
marriage laws, and debates over the real and proper relations between men and women, the
unequal status and degradation of women in marriage, and the husband’s legal right to the person
and the property of his wife. Mew’s story confronts these issues through the Gothic. The spirit
photograph is not merely an ingenious plot device as in Richard Marsh’s “The Photographs”
(1900), a tale in which photographs of the double of a convicted man’s wife prove his innocence
in an admixture of the supernatural, the technological and the sentimental, but also a tool of
critical exposure.
It is significant that the psychically aggressive husband figure of Mew’s story is a writer.
Stafford’s pursuit of Kate is informed by a pathologically invasive need to “discover” and thus to
“get” or possess her (174). Read in the context of the debates raised about the New Woman, Kate
is, as George Egerton said of woman in literature, “terra incognita.” Represented “as man liked
to imagine her,” woman “as she knew herself to be” was the “one small plot” left for women
writers to tell (qtd. in Showalter xii). Masculine authorship, assert Gilbert and Gubar, building
their argument on sexual metaphors in accounts of authorship and creativity by male writers, is

an act of phallic possession. Their insights into “Ruskin’s phallic-sounding ‘Penetrative
Imagination’” (5) are valuable in reading the relationship of Kate and Stafford. In Modern
Painters, Ruskin’s phallic imagery describes a masculinized imagination which “penetrates,”
“pierces” and “takes possession” of the contemplated subject, reaching “by intuition and
intensity of gaze [italics mine], (not by reasoning, but by its authoritative opening and revealing
power), a more essential truth than is seen at the surface of things” (284). In fact, Stafford’s
methods in pursuing Kate are a chilling take on the male gaze and a surprising, supernaturally
exact working of Ruskin’s “Penetrative Imagination”:
… no matter what be the subject submitted to it, substance or spirit; all is alike
divided asunder, joint and marrow, whatever utmost truth, life, principle it has,
laid bare … (251)
The writer, Stafford, is described as “vivisectionist,” “literary surgeon”, and “pathologist” (187),
and his relationship with Kate is on one level but the practice of his craft. She is an object of
investigation and marriage no more than a means to the final end of appropriating her very self, a
process which leads to her death. In the final analysis, the issues raised by the spectral plate serve
to interrogate the patriarchal model of authorship. Stafford is the type of the male artist,
vivisectionist and adept in the occult arts,whose“incisive touch”(173) turned to life kills his
subject, while the narrator represents another model, the narrator/author as photographer whose
final spirit photograph has a clairvoyant brilliance.
Mew’s story makes an interesting case study of a kind of fiction based on the perceptual
and stylistic model of photography. The representational possibilities of the photographic mode
inform the work of many nineteenth century writers including Henry James, whose influence is
very evident in Mew’s story. These authors, however, as Green-Lewis remarks, in a selfconscious attempt at achieving the position of scientific objectivity and the “neutral, impersonal,
disengaged” photographic gaze, deliberately efface the figure of the photographer as subject and
agent. The photographer remains only as “a theory rather than a person, a perspective rather than

a source, a style of writing and a way of looking but not an individual human subject” (GreenLewis 94). Mew’s story restores the figure of the photographer to the narrative process,
reclaiming the creative force and special intuition of the camera in the figure of the narrator/
woman writer.The technology and language of photography provide new ways of interrogating
and appropriating models of authorship and of fashioning the narrative process itself.
Works Cited
Armstrong, Nancy. “Fiction in the Age of Photography.” Narrative 7.1 (1999): 37-55. JSTOR.
Web. 9 September 2015.
Blavatsky, H. P. “Dialogue between the Two Editors.” Collected Writings Online.Vol.10.
Comp. Boris de Zirkoff. 217-226. Web. 4 November 2015.

“Can the Double Murder?” The Theosophist 4 (1883): 99-101. Web. 11 November 2015.

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. “On the Daguerreotype.” Illuminations: Women Writing on
Photography from the 1850s to the Present. Eds. Liz Heron and Val Williams. London:
I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 1996. 2. Print.
Budge, E. A. Wallis. Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life. 3rd edn. London: Kegan Paul, Trench,
Trubner & Co., 1908. Print.
Christ, Carol T. and John O. Jordan, “Introduction.” Victorian Literature and the Victorian
Visual Imagination. Eds. Christ and Jordan. Berkley, Los Angeles and London:
University of California Press, 1995. xix-xxix. Print.
Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth
Century. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: MIT Press, 1996. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader. Ed. David Sandner.
Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger, 2004. 74-101. Print.
Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the
Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven and London: Yale University
Press, 1979. Print.

Glendinning, Andrew. “Preface.” The Veil Lifted: Modern Developments of Spirit Photography.
Ed. Glendinning. London: Whittaker & Co., 1894. v-viii. Print.
Green-Lewis, Jennifer. Framing the Victorians: Photography and the Culture of Realism. Ithaca
and London: Cornell University Press, 1996. Print.
Harvey, John. Photography and Spirit. London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2007. Print.
Le Fanu, Sheridan. “Green Tea.” In a Glass Darkly.Vol. 1. London: R. Bentley & Son, 1872. 395. Print.
Marsh, Richard. “The Photographs.” The Seen and the Unseen. London: Methuen & Co., 1900.
18-60. Print.
Mew, Charlotte. “Mark Stafford’s Wife.” Collected Poems and Prose. Ed. Val Warner.
Manchester: Carcanet Press with Virago Press, 1982. 170-194. Print.
Rudisill, Richard. “Mirror Image: The Influence of the Daguerreotype on American Society.”
Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present. Ed. Vicki Goldberg. New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1981. 70-76. Print.
Ruskin, John. Modern Painters. Vol.2. Eds. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. London:
George Allen, 1903. Print.
Showalter, Elaine. “Introduction.” Daughters of Decadence. Ed. Showalter. London:
Virago, 1993. vii-xx. Print.
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Hall. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications Ltd. 1999, rpt. 2005. 80-94.
Stead, William T. Real Ghost Stories. Ed. Estelle W. Stead. New York: George H. Doran & Co.,
1921. Print.
Stoker, Bram. The Jewel of Seven Stars. New York: W. R. Caldwell & Co., 1904. Print.
“Thackeray as Novelist and Photographer.” The Journal of the Photographic Society of London.
Vol.7. Ed. Hugh W. Diamond. London: Taylor and Francis, 1862. 15-16. Print.

Ayesha: Icon of ‘Morphologic Alterity’ in Rider Haggard's She
Anne Herbert
On the coast of Africa, in a hitherto unexplored region. ... I learnt that the people there speak a
dialect of Arabic, and are ruled over by a beautiful white woman, who is seldom seen by them, but
who is reported to have power over all things living and dead.
-Leo Vincey, She
For the rest, it is of no public interest, resembling as it does the experience of more than one
Central African traveller.
-Horace Holly, She

In The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire, Thomas
Richards writes that “at the height of Darwinism in late-Victorian Britain, writers began
to imagine a great variety of monsters that fell outside the sureties of lineage enshrined in
morphology” (49). Moreover, narrative representations of these morphologic anomalies
tended to destabilize and disrupt “the very order of things, even threatening to bring
about the end of Empire” (49). Richards observes that “monsters” such as Bram Stoker's
Dracula and Rider Haggard's She “violate the doctrines of Darwinian morphology and so
turn the natural world upside down” (49).
In this essay, I argue that Ayesha is H. Rider Haggard's fictional contribution to
this cultural phenomenon and participates in this discourse as an icon of what Richards
refers to as “morphologic alterity”, which threatens to disrupt the foundational order of
Victorian culture – i.e. the imperialist ideology of Empire. In She, woman's body bears
the symbolic burden of the imperialist ethos and serves to both mediate and rationalize
the cultural anxieties and ambivalence it generates.

In the narrative, this angst is

articulated by Horace Holley, surrogate father of Leo Vincey, the avenging Victorian
descendant of the ancient Imperial Vindex family. References to Ayesha's “imperial

body” strategically punctuate the narrative to validate the Victorian Vincey's royal rights
to Ayesha's ancient imperial Kor. Even before Ayesha's first appearance, the possessed
female servant Ustane assumes Ayesha's “proud imperial form” to deliver Ayesha's
“thoughts and forebodings” to Leo, Holly and the Amahagger (92). And when Ayesha
first unveils herself to Holly, he describes her “form” as “only robed in a garb of clinging
white that did but serve to show its perfect and imperial shape” (155). Horace's
ambivalence toward what he sees before him is registered in his reluctance to relate the
unspeakable: “I have heard of the beauty of celestial beings, now I saw it; only this
beauty, with all its awful loveliness and purity, was evil – at least at the time, it struck me
as evil. How am I to describe it? I cannot – simply, I cannot!” (155). Significantly, in
Holly's assessment, the only certainty is that Ayesha's “loveliness … lay rather, if it can
be said to have had any fixed abiding place, in a visible majesty; in an imperial grace”
(155). Moreover, “drawn by some magnetic force” [which he] “could not resist” (156),
Holly is seduced by Ayesha – “this awful woman” and her imperial splendour. In an
attempt to reassess his reactions to Ayesha's “uncanny” allure, Holly dismisses Ayesha as
a “white sorceress” as he “… curses … the fatal curiosity that is ever prompting man to
draw the veil from woman, and curses on the natural impulse that begets it!” (159). When
Ayesha unveils herself to lure Leo away from the dead body of his beloved Ustane, Holly
describes “her glorious radiant beauty and her imperial grace” (229) as being much more
than Leo could resist. Thus, at this point, the focus of the narrative shifts to an
exploration of Holly's acute ambivalence towards Ayesha, who represents the eroticized
embodiment of the Imperialist ethos. As such, Ayesha's female body evolves into a
threatening emblem of “monstrous alterity.”

My contention in this essay is that Haggard's embodiment of the imperialist ethos
in Ayesha, the eponymous SHE (-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed), also contains an implicit
critique of imperialism. Significantly, this critique is mediated through the pensive,
philosophical Holly, the Cambridge don who reluctantly accompanies his adopted son,
Leo Vincey, on the young man's pre-ordained quest to Africa to avenge his royal ancestor,
Amenartas. I suggest that Holly's acute ambivalence toward the quest itself, and those
racial “Others” he encounters at the core of Africa, registers the national ambivalence
toward imperialist imperatives. On both the national and nationalist scales –


and Englishman, Horace Holly – this ambivalence is generated not only on the level of
the male/female power binary fears of penetration,i but also by the racist fear of
miscegenation. Compounding this late nineteenth-century cultural angst is the Victorian
gentleman’s uneasiness with the concept of entropyii and its implications for the
disintegration – the weakening and wearing down – of the order and structure of Empire.
Within this analytic context, in this essay, I will attempt to demonstrate how Ayesha's
“monstrous alterity” functions as a harbinger of the inevitable entropy of Empire through
Haggard's fictional narrative investment in the discourses of exploration, discovery and
conquest in Africa and at home.
Imperialist Discourse of African Exploration and Conquest
As noted by several critics who analyze Haggard's fiction within the historicalcultural context of the 1890's, She participates in the nineteenth century imperialist
discourse of African exploration and conquest – what one critic refers to as “the
androcentric mystique of exploration … pure male fantasy … clearly focused on the
experience of the white male out on the imperial frontier.”iii In Haggard's version of this

male imperialist fantasy, Ayesha rules over the core (Imperial Kor) of the African
continent – also configured as a female body to be penetrated, explored and conquered in
order to dis-cover (‘unveil’) Ayesha, the white female embodiment of imperialism at its
centre. Thus, as the container for the imperial core, a gendered Africa serves as the
repository of imperialism which resides in the antiquity of Kor. Indeed, the “Chinese
box” that several critics adduce as evidence of the complex structure and theme of
Haggard's narrative, is also apparent in the symbolic density of its imagined Empire,
Imperial Kor.
Ostensibly, the rationale for Leo's mission – inherited from his father – is to be
the agent of vengeance for his ancestor Amenartas. However, the letter from Leo's father
indicates that the African quest has more to do with exploration and discovery: “ … to
investigate what, if it is true, must be the greatest mystery in the world” (29). Indeed,
Leo Vincey, Sr., believes that the legend inscribed on the sherd of Amenartas is true – not
“an idle fable” – and that “if it [Kor] can only be re-discovered, there is a spot where the
vital forces of the world visibly exist” (29). Moreover, his caveat to his son that “he who
would tamper with the vast and secret forces that animate the world may well fall a
victim to them” (29), not only anticipates Leo's ill-fated encounter with Ayesha, but
registers the Victorian fascination with the uncertainties of the unknown and unexplored,
the yet to be discovered outside England. Amenartas' message on the sherd is two-fold:
“ … seek out the woman” [to kill her]; and “learn the secret of Life” (31). As Holly, Leo
and the servant Job drift on the boat after a horrific storm in “the dreadful wilderness of
swamp” (73), Holly laments that they “would follow after myths and seek out the secrets
of nature” (74). Moreover, Holly is acutely ambivalent regarding the compelling nature

of their African quest. He confesses that the curious physical landmark of their quest,
“the colossal negro’s head” (58) on the landscape, “excited my curiosity to an extent of
which I was secretly ashamed, and I was prepared to gratify it at any cost” (64).
Nonetheless, in the chapter entitled ‘Speculations,’ at the climax of his private
philosophical contemplations on the dangers of man's quest for “Full Knowledge” and
“too much wisdom”, Holly makes a grand allusion to English history – Sir Francis
Drake's third voyage to the new world, when Drake climbed to the top of a tall tree in the
mountains of Darien [Panama] to see the point of the world where the Pacific and
Atlantic Oceans meet. Holly proclaims:
Oh, that we could shake loose the prisoned pinions of the soul and soar to
that superior space from Darien's giddiest peak, we might gaze with the
spiritual eyes of noble thoughts deep into Infinity! (Haggard 118).
This allusion to Drake clearly positions Holly the Englishman in a long tradition of
English voyages of discovery and the narrative of She in the late nineteenth century
imperialist discourse of exploration.
‘Imperial Kor’: Repository for the English Imperial Archive
While Haggard genders the imperialist ethos and its rationalization in the white
body of Ayesha (Africa) --also feminized --is configured as imperialism's archival
repository, i.e. the remains of ‘Imperial Kor’ are at the geological core of the African
continent. This is commensurate with Victorian historical knowledge: that is to say, the
evolution of civilization as Haggard understood it was, “the passing of the torch of
greatness from the Egyptians to the Greeks to the Romans to the Franks and finally to the
English” (Etherington, Norman 212). There is a conscious effort in the narrative to attest

to this lineage and provide a narrative link between imperial Britain and Egypt and
Haggard’s imaginary Imperial Kor. The letter from Leo's father, for example, alludes to
“the extraordinary antiquity” of his son’s “race.”

Moreover, according to Holly,

regarding the “Latin cognomen of Vindex or the Avenger”, Vindex was transformed first
into de Vincey, and then into the “plain modern Vincey” (37). Adducing this etymology
as evidence of authentic ancestral lineage, Holly comments: “It is very curious to observe
how the idea of revenge, inspired by an Egyptian before the time of Christ, is thus, as it
were, embalmed in an English family name” (37). Later in the narrative, Holly links
Egypt and Kor to London in his description of the “enormous pit” of bones:
So far as I could judge, this pit was about the size of the space beneath the
dome of St. Paul's in London, and when the lamps were held up I saw that
it was nothing but one vast charnel-house, being literally full of thousands
of human skeletons, which lay piled up in an enormous gleaming pyramid
formed by the slipping down of the bodies at the apex as fresh ones were
dropped in from above [my emphasis] (181-182).
The pyramidal shape of the piles of bones alludes to an ancestral line traced from its
Egyptian origins, as does Ayesha's assertion that the people of Kor “embalmed their dead,
as did the Egyptians” (182). In this same passage, the relative brevity and inferiority of
the Amahagger's ancestral line is alluded to by the narrative's editorial footnote
associating the Amahagger's yellow linen clothing – taken from the tombs – which could
be bleached to its “former snowy whiteness” (182). That is to say, the Amahagger's
ancestral “whiteness” was only superficial. Their mixed (tainted) racial heritage was the
“true” marker of difference.

The Imperialist Idiom and Narratives of ‘Social Exploration,’ Discovery and
Although much has been written regarding the novel's deep narrative investment
in the discourse of expansionism – that is, in the non-fictive exploration, discovery and
conquest literature of African expeditions – I suggest that the class/caste differences
figured in relations of power between Ayesha and the aptly labelled “bastard
Amahaggers” whom she rules evokes another imperialist idiom of Victorian culture – the
journalistic narratives of so-called ‘social exploration.’ This genre served as an important
arbiter of Victorian caste/class power relations. Moreover, ‘travel’ narratives into East
End London suggest an overlapping of the ideology of the imperialist at home – that is,
‘social exploration’ within ‘Deepest, Darkest England’ – with the ideology of the
imperialist abroad. However, in such narratives of social exploration, the crucial mark of
difference is not racial or national identity but class/caste identity. Significantly, in the
journalistic discourse of social exploration, by constructing the lower classes as the
degenerate Other, the discourse of social exploration emulates that of the larger
imperialistic project abroad – that is to say, ‘imperialist’ relations of power still obtained
on England’s home-front. In She, representative of popular journalistic narratives of
social exploration, class/caste identity is filtered through the prism of racial markers of
difference. And here, it is necessary to qualify my reading of the “racial” differences
between Ayesha and the Amahaggers who serve her: Ayesha is “white,” yet she is

Arabic – not European – while the Amahagger is a “bastard” race, having miscegenated
with the people of Kor over the centuries. In the absence of a coherent racial identity for
the Amahaggers in the narrative, I see the power relations between Ayesha and the
Amahaggers, therefore, as reflecting more on the late-Victorian conceptualization of
class/caste than on clear-cut racial distinctions.

Indeed, when Holly refers to the

Amahagger as “thy people,” Ayesha denies them:
My people! speak not to me of my people … these slaves are no people of
mine, they are but dogs to do my bidding till the day of my deliverance
comes; and, as for their customs, naught have I to do with them (153).
Therefore, in a narrative drawing on the discourse of African exploration, Ayesha's
configuration as colonizing imperialist in relation to the “bastard” race of Amahaggers
also evokes narratives of social exploration current in late Victorian Britain which
intersect these Expedition narratives in interesting ways. For example, aligning the
foreignness of East End London with that of the African continent, Peter Keating points
out in his introduction to Into Unknown England, that Henry Mayhew, in his account of
‘social exploration’ (London Labour and the London Poor), attempted to provide
information about London's poor “of whom the public has less knowledge than of the
most distant tribes of the earth” (Keating 13). Keating observes that Mayhew uses the
“imagery of exploration” to critique the massive class inequalities in English society, of
which, presumably, the general public was unaware (Keating 13). Mayhew and other
Victorian social explorers described this mass of strange peoples variously as “a dark
continent that is within easy walking distance of the General Post Office” (Keating 14) or

in propagandist parlance such as: “As there is a darkest Africa, is there not also a darkest
England?” (Keating 14).
Indeed, In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890), William Booth's argument
is organized rhetorically around this analogy to the ideology of Empire (Keating 141151). One zealous social explorer, Andrew Mearns, in The Bitter Cry of Outcast London
(1883), stretches the analogy so far as to compare the slums and tenement dwellings of
East London's poor to slave ships:
... these pestilential human rookeries … where tens of thousands are
crowded together amidst horrors which call to mind what we have heard
of the middle passage of a slave ship. To get into them, you have to
penetrate courts reeking with poisonous and malodorous gases arising
from accumulations of sewage and refuse scattered in all directions and
often flowing beneath your feet (Keating 15).
A review of the essays of social exploration compiled in Keating's anthology also reveals
the journalists' compulsion to dramatize a curious overlapping of the rhetoric of
imperialist ideology with the rhetoric of sexist power. Significantly, Keating comments
that the “language” that social explorers “use to describe even a commonplace event
serves to glorify their own special qualities: they seem never to walk or ride into a slum,
they penetrate it” (16). Thus, the discourse of social exploration effects a utilitarian
amalgamation of adventure, imperialism, and sexual dominance, which thereby energizes
Victorian discourse in both arenas of ideological dissemination – that is, on the London
home-front, as well as in the Empire abroad – as do ‘imperialist romances’ such as
Haggard's She. Moreover, within the generic conventions of social exploration journalism

and imperialist romances, geopolitical and domestic political dominance are conflated
with sexual dominance. Here, class/caste and non-European culture become “the Other”
to be. And, as we shall see, these relations of power are embodied and mediated by a
“monstrous alterity” – Ayesha, a “white sorceress living in the heart of an African
swamp” (46).
Viewing this social journalistic compulsion to explore caste/class from a gendered
racial perspective, She also evokes the Victorian social explorer's configuration of Africa
as either a female virginal space to be conquered or a womb-like space from which to
emerge victorious. Again, we can point to William Booth's In Darkest England and the
Way Out, as the model for such discourse, as this document is particularly revealing in
terms of the intersection of images of sexual dominance with the idiom of social and
‘scientific’ (anthropological) exploration. Booth describes, for example, that in Henry M.
Stanley's exploration of the African terrain, Stanley “marched, tore, plowed, and cut his
way for one hundred and sixty days through this inner womb of the true tropical forest”
[my emphasis] (Keating 142). Here, the rhetoric of imperialist ideology is infused with
references to sexual aggression and dominance – the ravishment of the “womb” of the
African continent. Moreover, Stanley describes that the forest has:
nothing but trees, trees, and trees – great trees rising as high as an arrow
shot to the sky, lifting their crowns, intertwining their branches, pressing
and crowding one against the other until neither the sunbeam nor shaft of
light can penetrate it (143).
– a description which, again, is an eroticization of the explorer's interaction with the dark,
dense, “intertwining” mass of the African forest.

Haggard, too, configures the African terrain as a female body to be penetrated. In
the chapter entitled ‘The Squall,’ the African landscape and perilous predicament in
relation to it are eroticized. Juxtaposing Africa to England, Holly narrates that he, Leo
and Job leave “… the quiet college rooms … the wind swayed English elms and cawing
rooks, and the familiar volumes on the shelves” (48), to confront, at the outset of their
African adventure, “a vision of the great calm ocean gleaming in shaded silver lights
beneath the beams of the full African moon” (48). After a severe storm, the tide thrusts
their boat into “dead water … in the mouth of a river … floating on the waters, now only
heaving like some troubled woman's breast” (48). Holly narrates:
… the moon went slowly down in chastened loveliness, she departed like
some sweet bride into her chamber … and then the quivering footsteps of
the dawn came rushing across the newborn blue … quieter and yet more
quiet grew the sea, quiet as the soft mist that brooded on her bosom (56).
Indeed, Holly's description acknowledges that it is the feminized body of Africa that
compels his and his companions' exploration into the unknown.
Racist Iconography: Arbiter of Cultural Anxiety and Acute Ambivalence
As a fictional narrative that participates in this discourse of both African
exploration and discovery and journalistic social exploration, She is replete with racist
iconography that, I suggest, both energizes and destabilizes it. Michael Pickering argues
that, after the 1870's, the common populace of the British Empire was “forcefully
charged with manifesting a firm and devout commitment to imperialist values” (184).
Pickering observes that nineteenth century “texts of popular entertainment and fiction
[were] often the bearers of imperialist values and sentiments” (185). Although Pickering's

investigation of British Imperialism focuses on black minstrelsy as a locus of the interarticulation of racist and imperialist ideologies, I want to focus on his observation that
imperialist discourse was not “monolithic,” and its evolution was contingent upon the
expansion of Empire and changing historical conditions.
In the Victorian era, Pickering locates overtly racist values and attitudes after the
mid-nineteenth century, having evolved from a more moderate “racial and cultural
conceit” in the early nineteenth century. Significantly, he argues that concomitant with
“the actual seizure of land and material resources, (including labour) and the subsequent
establishment of colonial government” (188), the British imperialist project “involved the
creation of subject peoples and the justification of their subjugation” (188). And this
imperialist imperative of subjugation eventually “linked” Empire to “practices of race
thinking in the Victorian period” (Pickering 188). In relation to the value of racism to
imperialist ideology, Pickering argues that “nationalism and racism were indissolubly
part of imperialist discourse” (191) within the public economic sphere – as justification,
that is, for “territorial annexation” and “capitalist exploitation” of the racial Other's
property. Moreover, the nationalist/racist ideological foundation of imperialism “lent a
mystical dimension to conquest and rule and inflated self at the expense of a strategically
construed inferior who was knowable precisely because of being other” (Pickering 191).
And, as Peter Brantlinger has demonstrated, in late nineteenth century England, popular
fiction such as the Victorian romance and the so-called ‘racist romance’ literary genres
were essentially vehicles of such imperialist ideology.
In the remainder of this essay, I attempt to show how She exploits what Pickering
identifies as “the mystical dimension” of the conquest and rule of the Other and makes a

significant contribution to this late nineteenth century discourse of imperialism with the
help of racialist iconography. Moreover, my contention is that in a cultural climate of an
eroding British Empire, racism destabilizes and contributes much toward the much-feared,
yet anticipated imperial entropy – the dis-ordering of an ordered ideology that had
maintained and manipulated power relations throughout the nineteenth century. As such,
She represents an imagined entropy of imperialism enacted in and mediated through
Ayesha's ambiguously “white” female body. My argument recognizes the feminist
readings of Ayesha as a fictive site of man's fear of the feminine as well as man's drive to
penetrate and control. The focus of my argument, however, is on how Victorian racial
discourse destabilizes and delimits the imposition of imperialist imperatives, engendering
an acute ambivalence (in Holly) on two levels: the racial Other (Africa and the
Amahagger), and Ayesha, as the embodiment of the imperialist ethos.
It is significant that descriptions of the (gendered) African landscape is the
evidence of the intersection of imperialist power and articulations of racialist images of
the Other. Holly describes the African landmark for the entrance to Kor – i.e. the rock
shaped like an Ethiopian Head – in the typical racist terms of nineteenth century England:
The top of the peak … was shaped like a negro's head and face, whereon
was stamped a most fiendish and terrifying expression. There was no
doubt about it; there were the thick lips, the fat cheeks, and the squat nose
standing out with startling clearness against the flaming background.
There, too, was the round skull … and to complete the resemblance, there
was a scrubby growth of weeds or lichen upon it, which against the sun
looked for all the world like the wool on a colossal negro's head. (58)

To reorient himself and regain his English bearings on this African voyage of discovery,
Holly then asserts his Englishness in relation to the colossal image of the racial Other
represented by the landmark. Describing the “sluggish river” which has thrust them into
the swamp on the periphery of Kor, Holly locates the three Englishmen – in
contradistinction to the Ethiopian head: “And then ourselves – three modern Englishmen
in a modem English boat – seeming to jar upon and looking out of tone with the
measureless desolation: and in front of us, the noble buck limned out upon a background
of ruddy sky” (66).
As Edward Said observes in Orientalism, European cultural values and physical
appearances functioned as the standard of superiority – a standard which necessitated
perpetual cultural re-validation in popular literature. The success of British imperialism
depended on the exploitation of racial and class difference – differences which also
instigated cultural anxieties and ambivalence in relation to the racial Other, especially in
relation to miscegenation. Holly's (philosophical) ambivalence regarding miscegenation
translates into physical discomfort and emotional anxiety when he first encounters the
inhabitants of Kor. Holly describes the Amahagger, the products of generations of
miscegenation with the race of Kor, as “yellowish in colour,” their appearance similar to
that of “the East African Somali, only their hair was not frizzed up and hung in thick
black locks upon their shoulders. Their features were aquiline, and in many cases
exceedingly handsome” (77). Nevertheless, like the head of the Ethiopian Negro
landmark, the Amahagger visages are ominous – “an aspect of cold and sullen cruelty
stamped upon them that revolted me, and in which in some cases was almost uncanny in
intensity” (77).

Holly asks: “Of what race could these people be?” Implicit in his question is the
well-worn notion that skin colour is the paramount marker of racial difference.
Significantly, though the Amahagger language is Arabic, Holly surmises that “they were
not Arabs … they were too dark, or rather yellow.” Significantly, he attests that “I could
not say why, but I know their appearance filled me with a sick fear of which I felt
ashamed” (77). I suggest that the fear of miscegenation – and its entropic implications
for Empire – provoked Holly's reaction. As Sander Gilman observes in relation to the
miscegenated female racial Other in late-Victorian England, miscegenation was a cultural
“fear not merely of interracial sexuality but of its results, the decline of the population”
Moreover, an acute ambivalence toward imperialism is registered in Holly's
philosophical exchanges with its embodiment, Ayesha. Ayesha confronts Holly with the
powerful nature of her rule:
How thinkest thou that I rule this people? I have but a regiment of guards
to do my bidding, therefore it is not by force. It is by terror. My empire is
of the imagination (175).
As post-colonial theorists will argue, the British Empire's power indeed lay within the
realm of the imagination – imagined superiority, manifest destiny, divine right to rule.
Firmly within the realm of imagined superiority determined to prevail, Ayesha alludes to
the nature and functioning of Empire when she asserts that:
Thou has seen how in the heavens the little clouds blow this way and that
without a cause, yet behind them is the great wind sweeping on its path
where it listeth. So it is with me, oh Holly. My moods and changes are the

little clouds, and fitfully these seem to turn; but behind them ever blows
the great wind of my purpose (176).
And, Ayesha confidently rationalizes the imperialist project:
The world is a great mart, my Holly, where all things are for sale to him
who bids the highest in the currency of our desires. ... Is it, then a crime,
oh foolish man, to put away that which stands between us and our ends? ...
In the world none save the strongest can endure. Those who are weak must
perish; the earth is to the strong, and the fruits thereof. ...We run to place
and power over the dead bodies of those who fail and fall; ay, we win the
food we eat from out the mouths of starving babes. It is the scheme of
things. ... I tell thee there is a hand of Fate that twines them up to bear the
burden of its purpose, and all things are gathered in that great rope to
which all things are needful (202-203).
To this haughty harangue, Holly responds that it is “hopeless to argue against casuistry of
this nature, which, if it were carried to its logical conclusion, would absolutely destroy all
morality, as we understand it” (203). Later, Holly's dream of the fall of Imperial Kor
registers his ambivalence toward Ayesha as the embodiment of imperialism as well as his
anxieties about the entropy of Empire. Nonetheless, in the Temple of Truth, the allure of
Ayesha's “radiant beauty and imperial grace” persists. After Ayesha's horrific destruction
and “entropic” disintegration – her devolution – Holly's narration is marked by periods
of narrative reluctance and incapacity to speak the unspeakable – to assert the
“conscience” of imperialism that he has articulated in Ayesha's presence: “I will not try
to describe it. ... no wild invention of the romancer can ever equal the living horror of that

place” (303). Moreover, the end of the narrative finds Holly contemplating the inevitable
entropy of Empire, “wondering in what shape and form the great drama [my emphasis]
will be finally developed” (316).
Thus expecting at the end of his African quest to encounter “some savage dusky
queen” at the geologic center of Imperial Kor, Holly finds a “white sorceress” imperialist,
whose devastating demise foreshadows the entropic erosion of imperial Britain. As a
product of its time, She participates effectively in the discourses of exploration, discovery
and conquest, both on England’s home front and abroad, as the novel functions as a
fictional repository of the social anxieties and ideological ambivalence engendered by a
long history of global racism, domestic caste/class conflict, and the Victorian cultural
intellectual engagement with entropy. Although invested heavily in the imperialist ethos
and language of late Victorian England, as I have attempted to demonstrate, She
nonetheless can be seen to contain within its “Chinese box-like” structural and thematic
complexities, a critique of imperialism and a rationale for its inevitable demise.

Rebecca Stott writes in “THE DARK CONTINENT: Africa as Female Body in Haggard's Adventure
Fiction” (Feminist Review, No. 32, Summer 1989): “The horror at the centre of Africa, the horror at the
centre of the text threatens to release itself. To lift the veil, to penetrate too deeply into the mysteries of
woman or into the mysteries of Africa, is to risk releasing something potentially dangerous.” And others,
such as Peter Brantlinger (in Rule of Darkness) and David Bunn (‘Embodying Africa, Woman and
Romance in Colonial Fiction,’ English in Africa 15:1, May 1988) focus on the Freudian sexual nuances of
the male/female binary of power and its attendant anxieties. My argument affirms such readings but
focuses more on the racialist/racist inflections of imperialist ideology and its attendant cultural anxieties,
and how these anxieties feed into a fear of disorder and entropic disintegration of the Empire.

Thomas Richards, The Imperial Archive, discusses both “morphologic alterity” and its narrative
representations in Dracula (49), and entropy as “the tendency of matter to move from an organized to a
disorganized state,” which Richards assesses as “the most important epistemological index of the century”

Rebecca Stott (‘THE DARK CONTINENT’) argues that the penetration of Africa is the subject of novels
such as She and King Solomon's Mines.

Works Cited
Brantlinger, Patrick. The Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism,
1830-1914. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988. Print.
Etherington, Norman. The Annotated She: A Critical Edition of H. Rider Haggard's
Victorian Romance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Print.
Gilman, Sander L. ‘Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female
Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine and Literature’. Critical
Inquiry, 1985; 12(1), 204 -242. Print.
Haggard, H. Rider. She. New York: Penguin Books USA, Inc., (Signet Classic) 1994.
Keating, Peter. Into Unknown England 1866-1913. Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 1976. Print.
Pickering, Michael. ‘Mock blacks and racial mockery: the 'nigger' minstrel and British
Imperialism.’ Acts of Supremacy: The British Empire and the Stage, 1870-1930,
ed. J. S. Bratton, et al Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991, 179-236.
Richards, Thomas. The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire.
London: Verso Press, 1993. Print.

Of Alternative Dimensions: Flatland and the Victorian Worldview
Debarati Bandyopadhyay

Nineteenth century works of speculative fiction, tangentially placed vis-à-vis the real
world, provided ideas of other possible modes of existence in the same space but along a
different time-frame, as in the work of H.G. Wells, or apparently the same period with
exploration of unknown space, for instance, in the works of Jules Verne, rather imaginatively.
However, not only the concept of these alternative modes of existence, but also the works of
speculative fiction in which they are found succeeded in critiquing contemporary socio-political
and cultural conventions quite effectively. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea ascribed
superior scientific and technological knowledge and expertise to a person from one of the
subjugated races, even as the extent of European and American science and technology is
revealed as limited in comparison:
… There’s the ideal ship! And if it’s true that the engineer has more confidence
in a craft than the builder, and the builder more than the captain himself, you
can understand the utter abandon with which I place my trust in this Nautilus,
since I’m its captain, builder, and engineer all in one!
Captain Nemo spoke with winning eloquence (89).
We also learn that Captain Nemo had abjured land and as far as practicable, human contact. Yet,
observing him endanger his life to save the life of an unknown Indian fisherman, when Professor
Aronnax wondered aloud about this behaviour, Captain Nemo replied: “That Indian, professor,
lives in the land of the oppressed, and I am to this day, and will be until my last breath, a native
of that same land!”(Verne 198).

Professor Challenger’s expedition to the lost world, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s
twentieth-century work simultaneously criticised human behaviour and extolled any virtue that
managed to shine through in times of distress. The oscillation in these narratives, between the
virtuous narrator from the period and the meritorious ‘other’ elsewhere would effectively
highlight the good, the ugly and the evil inherent in the idea of British as well as European
culture in the nineteenth century. Keeping in mind a Victorian worldview, this paper proposes to
read Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland (1884) as interestingly positioned in its evocation of the
ability to move beyond contemporary ideas of space and time, especially since the idea of
alternative dimensions emerges as pioneering thought in the context of this book. While the lack
of logical solutions to questions about the Flatlanders’ physiological processes prevent critics
from reading Flatland as a work of science fiction, and the preponderance of fantasy poses
another problem, presentation of a fictional account of alternative dimensions makes this work
essential reading in the history of speculative fiction. Abbott’s mathematical speculation,
presented as fiction, anticipated Einstein’s findings and earned his acknowledgement even as it
remained a potent critique of Victorian mores.
In order to discuss works of Victorian science fiction, speculative fiction and fantasy, it is
necessary to follow the nuances of these terms in our times, at the outset. Margaret Atwood’s
description of the relative merits of these terms provides a striking account of the entire matter
through In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011) where she mentions the
conceptual difficulties faced by her and Ursula K. Le Guin in this context. Atwood makes
specific references to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to distinguish speculative fiction from science
fiction on the one hand and fantasy on the other:
What I mean by “science fiction” is those books that descend from
H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which treats of an invasion by tentacled,

blood-sucking Martians shot to Earth in metal canisters - things that could
not possibly happen – whereas, for me, “speculative fiction” means plots that
descend from Jules Verne’s books about submarines and balloon travel and
such – things that really could happen but just hadn’t completely happened
when the authors wrote their books ...
In a public discussion with Ursula Le Guin in the Fall of 2010,
however, I found out that what she means by “science fiction” is speculative
fiction about things that really could happen, whereas things that really could
not happen she classifies under “fantasy.” … In short, what Le Guin means
by “science fiction” is what I mean by “speculative fiction” and what she
means by “fantasy” is what I mean by “science fiction” (6 - 7).
Flatland proves difficult to label as it retains traces of all three kinds of writing simultaneously.
The bigger conceptual problem is posed by the fact that the expression ‘science fiction’ itself
appears to be a contradiction in terms. The objectivity that science requires appears to get
negated in the use of human imagination in the latter part of the expression. Yet, authors of
various kinds of books of science fiction and speculative fiction have repeatedly written about
extraordinary situations generated by spatial and/or temporal dislocation to ‘other’ worlds or
modes of existence, where the limitation of the contemporary extent of scientific knowledge can
logically be surmounted in the fictional or imaginative creation. It is also often observed that
such works of fiction are described as either utopian or dystopian in effect. In order to discuss a
crucial yet difficult-to-categorize text like Flatland in the context of the Victorians’ knowledge
of mathematics, however, it is possible that Atwood’s concoction of a new term might prove to
be useful: “Ustopia is a word I made up by combining utopia and dystopia – the imagined

perfect society and its opposite – because, in my view, each contains a latent version of the other
(In Other Worlds 66).”
Edwin Abbott Abbott’s novel, Flatland (1884), was published anonymously. Abbott
(1838 - 1926), already a well known figure in England, was a Cambridge University graduate,
Anglican clergyman, and headmaster of the City of London School from 1865 to 1889. At this
time, the school-curriculum was dependent on imparting a sound knowledge of Latin and
Euclid’s geometry especially. The young boy learnt this the hard way in The Mill on the Floss
(1860) by George Eliot, as his Oxford- trained clergyman-tutor Mr. Stelling started “instilling the
Eton Grammar and Euclid into the mind of Tom Tulliver” (138). Abbott sought to broaden the
scope of lessons through the addition of English literature and science. But he could not change
the educational system all by himself. However, in the anonymous novel he had critiqued many
aspects of contemporary England, including its mechanical educational system.
The Flatland in Abbott’s novel has two dimensions, length and breadth. Life is quite
prosaic and disciplined with a clear and strictly-imposed hierarchy in Flatland. In other words,
life for the characters in this novel is literally quite flat. In the special condition of travel to other
realms of existence, as if in a dream, the Square, the narrator in this novel, visits Pointland later.
A Pointland has no dimensions, it simply exists. The Square also pays a visit to Lineland where
there is only one dimension. From a long debate with the king of Lineland he learns that this
single-dimensional life is the king’s favourite and he does not even want to recognize the
possibility of the existence of a second dimension. The Square feels that both the single
inhabitant-cum-monarch of Pointland and the King of Lineland are ignorant and unfortunate in
having very limited vision. But the Square fails to realise that he too, like every other person in
Flatland, is leading a similar, limited existence. The Square, however, is a good mathematician,
and possibly for this reason, since it would be easier for him to grasp the nature of three

dimensions, a Sphere from the superior, three-dimensional world pays him a visit. The Sphere
tries to tell him about the possibility of Spaceland but he continues to resist the idea of morethan-two-dimensions with all his might. After a visit to Spaceland and when he has felt the
Sphere all around, he realises that three dimensions – length, breadth and height – really exist.
The Square now begins to ask the Sphere questions about the fourth, fifth and sixth dimensions.
In his turn, the Sphere grows angry and refuses to admit the possibility of their existence. In
addition to this argument resulting in getting alienated from the Sphere, when the Square returns
to his own country, and tries to talk about the existence of Spaceland, according to the law of the
land, he is imprisoned for life, as even the consideration of a possibility of a third dimension is
considered heresy in Flatland.
The various degrees of ignorance and resistance to superior knowledge exhibited by the
Pointlander, Linelander, Flatlander(s) and even the Spacelander remind us of the experiences of
Gulliver in Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Gulliver’s travel to the land of the Lilliput, Brobdingnag,
the scientists of Laputa and the wise Houynhnms reveals, in respect of physical size in the first
two instances, regarding theoretical knowledge in the third instance and lastly, concerning
wisdom, the nature of his growing perception of the limitations of human existence. In the best
parts of Jonathan Swift’s novel, this evolution of Gulliver’s perception is presented as a
delightful mixture of satire and comedy. The demonstration of the faults in contemporary
England, presented implicitly in Gulliver’s Travels, has remained popular reading at least in
parts in our times too. Such an oblique way of critiquing one’s own society in the garb of fiction
can prove to be a potent tool in the hands of a master craftsman.
A discussion of the origins of science fiction by Brian Stableford in “Science Fiction
before the Genre” highlights precisely the travel-oriented aspects of fantasy writing from the
seventeenth century onwards:

One genre hospitable to SF speculation was that of utopian fantasy, whose
usual narrative form was the imaginative voyage The rich tradition of
travellers’ tales was launched by one of the first and foremost champions of the
scientific method, Francis Bacon, in New Atlantis (written c.1617; published
1627) … Most subsequent utopian fantasies took scientific and technological
advancement into account, but relegated it to a minor role while matters of
social, religious and political reform remained centre stage (15).
Stableford provides a list of utopian fantasies and scientific romances published during the next
three centuries, in a chronological order, without mentioning Flatland in this context.
Consequently, as a novel that combined a sound scientific and mathematical knowledge with
accounts of travel and a detailed picture of the imaginary Flatland, Abbott’s writing deserves due
critical attention.
In Flatland, it is possible to trace the nature of limitation from which the Victorian
society suffered as Abbott’s novel too, is meant to be an indirect representation of contemporary
life. In Victorian Science Fiction in the UK: The Discourses of Knowledge and Power (1983),
Darko Suvin had called a certain class of writing, “cognitive parables”: “they create an
alternative world, treat it with verisimilitude, and use it analogically to challenge the standards of
the authors’ own societies” (quoted in Flatland ix). There has been an evaluation of Flatland in
terms of this idea by Rosemary Jann. In addition, in case the idea of utopia as not merely ‘good
place’ but rather, ‘no place’, a possible interpretation in the case of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516)
is remembered, we begin to understand the significance of Abbott’s imaginary Flatlanders,
actually geometrical figures and shapes in action who cannot possibly ever have had any
existence in the human world independently. However, since dystopia is described as the
opposite of utopia and in terms of how bad the place is, it is customary to describe in dystopian

fiction, the intensity of suffering, socio-political ills and inequalities in an imaginary space and
time or, as in Arthur C. Clarke’s writing, as utopia with a fatal flaw. The tacit understanding
always remains, however, that the author’s contemporary society is actually being critiqued, with
various degrees of pessimism. In this sense, too, the society, politics, culture and class-related
problems in Flatland reflect the characteristics of an ostensibly stable, traditional mode of
existence, as in Victorian England, but it is possible to read the novel in terms of implicit
criticism of Abbott’s society too.
The novel presents a critique of the Victorian society indirectly by describing the social
position of the lower class and female inhabitants of Flatland. In a cognitive parable, the
conventions of the central characters’ society are deliberately presented in exaggerated and
inverted forms, and the reasons behind such conventions are taken to illogical or ridiculous
extremes to highlight the wrongs in the author’s contemporary society. In Flatland, the working
class Isosceles triangles are the lowest among the men. Equilateral triangles form the trade sector.
The ‘Law of Nature’ in Flatland allows each male child to gain one more side in comparison to
his father and so, move one step forward each generation towards the socially coveted position of
the polygon. In the novel, the narrator is a square and his father was an equilateral triangle, while
the Square’s grandsons are hexagons. In this way, there is some guarantee of social progress but
this privilege is reserved only for the professional, genteel and upper class male Flatlanders. The
lower class or working population of Isosceles triangles increases the size of their angles by a
paltry half-degree increment every generation. This serves as an oblique comment on the relative
positions of middle and working classes in the Victorian society. In Flatland, for the nobility, or
the many-sided polygons, the aspiration was to rise to the level of priestly circles or governors,
or to dream of life as the perfect circle.

The novel captures how the Isosceles triangles are often thought to regress to the level of
antisocial elements. With very sharp angles, they are used as soldiers but if they are not kept in
control, they are perceived as a threat with the ability to kill many upper class Flatlanders.
Therefore, the policy was:
Owing to occasional retrogressions, to still more frequent moral and intellectual
stagnation, and to the extraordinary fecundity of the Criminal and Vagabond
Classes, there is always a vast superfluity of individuals of the half degree and
single degree class ... These are absolutely destitute of civic rights; and a great
number of them, not having even intelligence enough for the purposes of
warfare, are devoted by the States to the service of education. Fettered
immovably so as to remove all possibility of danger, they are placed in the
classrooms of our Infant Schools, and there they are utilized by the Board of
Education ...
In some states the Specimens are occasionally fed and suffered to exist
for several years; but in the… better regulated regions, it is found in the long
run more advantageous… to dispense with food, and to renew the Specimens
every month, - which is about the average duration of the foodless existence of
the criminal class (34 - 35).
In other words, the working and lowest class of Flatlanders are always found to be excess in
number than strictly necessary, so they are perceived as a potential threat and hence the
statesmen always try to starve as many of them to death as possible, after extracting their utilityvalue to the full. It is conceivable that the ghosts of Malthus and the Utilitarians would be able to
appreciate the arrangement best.

In Flatland, the polygons take their infant sons to a special hospital-unit, so that the
number of the baby’s sides can be increased manifold through operations to turn them into
circles, so that they move up the last few rungs of the social hierarchy swiftly and begin to
belong to the coveted ruling class. However, many infants would die in the process. The
polygonal fathers would still continue to take their newborn children to the hospital-units for the
potential increase in family prestige. These two instances remind us of Francis Galton in
Victorian England, who had coined the term ‘eugenic’ in 1883 to show that social position was
determined by innate traits which were inherited. Combining this with Darwin’s suggestion of
the possibility of the survival of the fittest, the idea was to encourage reproduction of the best
and upper classes, and, if possible, discourage the breeding of the socially unfit, that is, the
poorer classes. In addition, this could also prevent poor people from turning into a criminal threat
to the superior classes.
In Flatland, for all classes of people, as in Rabindranath Tagore’s imaginary Land of
Cards, also written in the nineteenth century and revised in the twentieth, albeit in Bengali, the
primary duty was to conform to traditional thoughts and practices. The historical Colour Revolt
in Flatland and the Square questioning received ideas about the flatness of the compatriots, that
is, all instances of heterogeneous thought, were punished by imprisonment and/or death. The
history of the Colour Revolt in Flatland provides a graphic picture of the propensity to maintain
class distinction rigorously in the name of propriety and tradition, with special reference to the
use to which the women in Flatland were put for upholding their honour, even though otherwise
they had no position of respect in daily life. In Flatland, the Square records:
If my Readers have followed me with any attention … they will not be
surprised to hear that life is somewhat dull in Flatland. I do not … mean that
there were not battles, conspiracies, tumults, factions, and all those other

phenomena which are supposed to make History interesting … It was not
always thus. Colour, if Tradition speaks the truth, once for the space of half a
dozen centuries or more, threw a transient splendor over the lives of our
ancestors in remote ages (46).
The Square records that the use of colour on one’s body was not only aesthetically desirable, but
also gradually perceived as necessary, since now the compulsion to ‘feel’ and identify
compatriots, vanished quite easily. A heightened visual perception of the presence of another
body in the vicinity solved problems of accidental confrontation and injury. Gradually, apart
from the women, in one sense belonging to the lowest class who structurally, had no sides to
colour and the circles or the highest class of Flatlanders, again with no sides but a continuous
circumference, were the only two classes of Flatlanders, at opposite ends of the social scale,
which could not be coloured. However, a stray incident of acquiring accidentally, the colours of
the higher classes, prompted a low-class Isosceles to woo and marry a vulnerable, upper class
woman with a forged identity, resulting in subsequent disclosure and suicide of the bride who
felt that she had been robbed of her honour. The common Flatlanders’ collective attempt at
getting passed a Universal Colour Bill, bringing into its purview women too, could now easily be
termed a threat in terms of potential anarchy. An extraordinary meeting of the Assembly of the
States with the leaders of the agitation for the Colour Bill, in the lethal presence of the sharp,
needle-like women and razor-thin convicts ended in brilliant oratory on the part of the statesman
and subsequent butchering of all the agitators by using the women and the convicts to move
strategically. Abbott was a Headmaster of a prominent school in London. It is, perhaps,
impossible to remain oblivious to the references to the hazards of anarchy by England’s greatest
Inspector of Schools in the nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold, in Culture and Anarchy, written
a few decades ago, but conceivably to be taken as equally true in the context of Flatland as well.

In John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” (1859), we learn about the necessity of similar
conformity in the nineteenth century in England and about the consequences if one refused to
… the man, and still more the woman, who can be accused either of doing
‘what nobody does’, or of not doing ‘what everybody does’, is the subject of
as much depreciatory remark as if he or she had committed some grave
moral delinquency ...
Persons require to possess a title, or some other badge of rank … to be able
to indulge somewhat in the luxury of doing as they like … [otherwise] they
are in peril of commission de lunatico ... In former days, when it was
proposed to burn atheists, charitable people used to suggest putting them in a
mad-house instead (76 - 77).
J.S.Mill, in this context, had compared the attempt to make everyone conform to contemporary
social, religious and cultural ideas as “to maim by compression, like a Chinese lady’s foot, every
part of human nature which stands out prominently” (77). If in the context of nineteenth century
England, accepting these strict measures would signify a means of survival, then in both England
and the fictional Flatland, the situation was much more difficult for women. Female Flatlanders,
even in aristocratic families, are like straight lines and so, inferior in physical configuration and
level of intelligence, even to the sharpest-angled Isosceles triangle, the lowest category of male
Flatlanders. Therefore, female Flatlanders never had any formal education and with their
potential to accidentally or irrationally cause death to everybody around them, they always had
to indicate their presence by means of a peace-cry, and enter into buildings through separate
entrances reserved for them. If they would catch a cold, causing an increase in their chance of
accidental killing of any male Flatlander (the females are like long and very sharp needles, we

remember), the sneezing female, if not able to cure herself quickly, would be put to death. The
Square refers to the custom in Flatland which prompted the men to speak the language of reason
amongst themselves, and a language of emotional appeal, of love (often falsely) to women. This
reminds us of J.S. Mill’s “The Subjection of Women” (1869) where he deplored the ‘civilised’
practice that “to be born a girl instead of a boy, … to be born black instead of white, or a
commoner instead of a nobleman, shall decide a person’s position through all life” (490). To be
born female in England in the nineteenth century meant that except for the Queen, according to
J.S.Mill, to be born with a natural handicap which barred the woman from learning things and
competing with even the meanest of men. In the lives and deaths of female Flatlanders, the
suffering of Victorian women seems to have found imaginative representation, although possibly
due to the constraints of the romance, the description is highly exaggerated and even partially
misogynistic. This also serves to align Flatland with the ideas of both cognitive parable and
In Flatland, Abbott portrayed a society in which there was discrimination in terms of
class and gender. As a scholar and teacher, it may be guessed that he was also making an attempt
to criticise the intellectual arrogance existing in contemporary Britain. In the use of imagination
to explore the possibility of challenging and extending the limits of knowledge, evident in the
fictional representation Abbott makes in Flatland, lies the (since then, scientifically verified)
truth of the prophetic power of his idea of the existence of dimensions beyond the ones that
Flatlanders and the most superior English thinkers could conceptualise. It is possibly amidst the
dystopian view of Flatland that the anticipation of the scientific truth about the existence of
further dimensions, appreciated by Einstein, shines all the brighter and offers the twenty first
century readers a sense of ustopia.

Works Cited
Abbott, Edwin Abbott. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.
Atwood, Margaret. In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. United States: Doubleday,
2011. Print.
Eliot, George. The Mill on the Floss. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty and Other Essays. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Stableford, Brian. “Science Fiction before the Genre.” The Cambridge Companion to
Science Fiction ed. Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn. Cambridge:Cambridge UP,
2003. 15-31. Print.
Verne, Jules. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870). Great Works of Jules Verne.
Kolkata: Projapoti, 2009. 9-352. Print.

‘Supernatural Soliciting’?: Vestiges of Gothic Horror, Fantasy and the
Supernatural in Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘Barbara of the
House of Grebe’
Oindrila Ghosh

The association of the term ‘Gothic’ with Thomas Hardy hardly seems problematic
because of his profession as an architect.What remains problematic however, is its usage in and
implications for his fiction. Yet his novels and short stories are punctuated by the vestiges of
gothic horror, supernatural elements and even the germs of science-fiction. We cannot dismiss
Hardy's literary use of Gothic conventions. Although several critics and biographers have studied
and enumerated his interest in the Gothic and even the Gothicism of some of his minor works, no
thorough analysis of the aesthetic use of Gothic conventions in Thomas Hardy's shorter fiction
has yet been done. Rather, Hardy the writer has been criticized severely for sensationalism and
awkwardness in his early novels and for his fiction in general. Few studies till date have
examined the Gothicism and use of supernatural elements of his novels and shorter fiction as a
key to understanding his fictional technique and artistic vision. His novels, such as The Return of
the Native are interspersed with record of rural customs, superstitions, folkways and gothic
elements embedded in Dorset folklore, also the phantom stagecoach in Tess of the D’Urbervilles,
or the conjuror Trendle with his powers of foresight in The Mayor of Casterbridge. In fact,
Hardy states in the Preface to the ‘Wessex’ edition of his works regarding his desire to retain
verisimilitude in his Wessex settings: “instituted inquiries to correct tricks of memory, and
striven against temptations toexaggerate, in order to preserve for my own satisfaction a fairly
true record of a vanishing life” (The Personal Notebooks of Thomas Hardy 46). This essay would
concentrate on the continuing use of the gothic, the supernatural and fantasy in Hardy’s fiction,
especially the short stories, right from the beginning of his literary career, unearthing Hardy’s
use of Gothic features such as doubles, spectres and ghosts, as well as his interest in evolutionary

biology, degeneration and eugenics which had wide circulation in Victorian times, concentrating
on two stories – ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’.
Thomas Hardy has received great acclaim and acceptance as a poet and novelist, but his
short stories have remained largely ignored with regard to the usual short story ‘canon’.Though
early reviews of Hardy's stories were often mixed, after his death the tide of critical opinion
tended to turn against Hardy's stories. Janice Stewart Heber opines: “[a] significant historical
factor was the prevalence of censorship by editors during the Victorian period, since Hardy
focused on telling life stories ‘honestly’ ” (3). Hardy was forced by editors to alter his writing
toconform to acceptable social standards of morality. One simply needs to look at Martin Ray’s
brilliant textual history of the short stories with the extensive changes Hardy carried out at every
stage of their publicationi. Consideration of the receptionhistory also sheds light on Hardy's
innovative techniques, includinghis use of black comedy, supernatural elements or the absurd.
Critical opinion has also beenaffected by Hardy's theory of the storyteller's art, including
hisfascination with the extraordinary and the bizarre. Hardy's explorations of the supernatural is
an aspect of his stories that is most misunderstood by modern critics, who admire Modernist
story tellers like Chekhov, Joyce and Hemingway. Today, with the advent of cultural criticism
and the interest in folk materials, Hardy's stories may take on new resonance and generate
growing interest among readers and critics. The determination shown by Hardy, to preserve a
record of Wessex/Dorset in the nineteenth century is of particular interest to folklorists, since
Hardy makes many references to traditional culture, in all its forms, throughout his work. Such
use of traditional material as part of the background to novels is not unique to Hardy, since other
Victorian novelists also include local traditions in their writing. Nevertheless, Hardy is
distinguishable from his fellow writers both by the extent to which he drew on local folklore and,
in particular, by his first-hand knowledge of the subject. The best known of Hardy’s ghosts is the
phantom d’Urberville coach, which appearsin Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Tess Durbeyfield, a
milkmaid who is a descendant of the ancient and aristocratic d’Urberville family, on seeing the

antiquated carriage provided for her wedding transport, observes that she has seen it before,
possibly in a dream. Norma Goldstein comments thus, about the ‘spirit of Gothicism’ in Hardy’s
Not only as a stonemason sculpturing the Gothic features of English churches, but
more as an imbiber of what is essentially Gothic, Thomas Hardy inhaled the spirit
of Gothicism from his early youth onward. Young Hardy lived in a rural culture
that incorporated ghosts and eerie past histories and heroes and heroines into its
everyday folkways. Such was the culture and mythology of the folk of Dorset from
which Hardy developed and which he hoped to preserve in his writings (23).
It is this inhaled and imbibed spirit which comes forth again and again in his novels and
especially in his short stories.
In ‘The Withered Arm’, Hardy exploits a universal fascination for evil and horror, also
known as the gothic or grotesque. The ‘evil eye’ or ‘overlooking’ has been a recurrent motif in
Hardy’s fiction as it has been part of Dorset folklore and superstition. Susan Nunsuch in The
Return of the Native suspects Eustacia to be a witch who casts her evil eye on her children, with
the result of her burning wax effigies of her and also pricking her with a knitting needle. The
casting of the evil eye is an important element of this tale from the Wessex Tales, which takes
one into the depths of the social iniquities, patriarchal oppression of women and the dark world
of superstitions prevalent in Rural England. The Gothic conventions in this tale include a
symbolic and often threatening landscape, a prophetic and inexplicable nightmare, the realistic
effects of superstitions which come true, the possibility of theexistence of witches and the effect
of their spells, andironic twists of fate through which the chief characters are interconnected and
their fates doomed.
Rhoda Brook, the rejected mistress of Farmer Lodge in ‘The Withered Arm’ (Wessex
Tales)ii, occupies a singular position in the entire gamut of Hardy’s short stories. From the

beginning she is depicted as a mysterious woman: “ … a thin fading woman of thirty milked
somewhat apart from the rest” (52). What has passed between Rhoda and Lodge is never
mentioned, but we are told: “[he] ha’n’t spoke to Rhoda Brook for years” (53). That she was
once his mistress, whom he had used sexually and emotionally, is clear; but he seems to have
chosen to sever all ties with her eventually. Even the illegitimate child that resulted from his
union with Rhoda is ignored by him. A victim of brusque abandonment by Lodge, burdened with
unwelcome motherhood, and forced to choose a life of aloofness in order to escape the jeers of
the villagers, Rhoda vents her harshness on her child and later directs her jealousy towards
Lodge’s beautiful young wife Gertrude. Rhoda’s difficult life as discarded mistress and unwed
mother had hardened her so much that her natural impulses are completely frozen, which even
motherhood is unable to soften. Being an unwelcome responsibility, Rhoda’s relationship with
her child is devoid of warmth and affection and is very uncomfortable. She uses her boy as an
instrument to escalate her sexual rivalry with Gertrude.
The tale has all the elements of gothic horror and supernatural spectacle which was part
of all of Hardy’s literary oeuvre. With Rhoda drawing minute details of Farmer Lodge’s pretty
wife Gertrude from her unnamed son, begins the spinning of the web of entangled destinies of
the two women:
What did she wear this morning?
A white bonnet and a silver coloured gown. It whewed and whistled so loud when
it rubbed against the pews that the lady coloured up more … (57)
And the excited news and gossip around her in the dairyman’s yard eventually assists Rhoda
whereby “Rhoda Brook could raise a mental image of the unconscious Mrs Lodge that was as
realistic as a photograph” (57). Nowhere better than this story does the malignant power of the
evil eye or ‘overlooking’ manifest itself better. The prolonged and deep impact of the boy’s

regular information about the pretty and fragile Gertrude upon Rhoda’s imagination produces an
uncanny manifestation in her nightmare which is vividly described:
For the first time Gertrude Lodge 'visited the supplanted woman in her dreams.
Rhoda Brook dreamed – since her assertion that she really saw, before falling
asleep, was not to be believed – that the young wife, in the pale silk dress and
white bonnet, but with features shockingly distorted, and wrinkled as by age, was
sitting upon her chest as she lay. The pressure of Mrs Lodge's person grew heavier;
the blue eyes peered cruelly into her face: and then the figure thrust forward its left
hand mockingly, so as' to make the wedding-ring it wore glitter in Rhoda's eyes.
Maddened mentally, and nearly suffocated by pressure, the sleeper struggled; the
incubus, still regarding her, withdrew to the foot of the bed, only, however, to
come forward by degrees, resume her seat, and flash her left hand as before.
Gasping for breath, Rhoda, in a last desperate effort, swung out her right hand,
seized the confronting spectre by its obtrusive left arm, and whirled it backward to
the floor, starting up herself as she did so with a low cry.
‘O, merciful heaven!’ she cried, sitting on the edge of the bed in a cold sweat; ‘that
was not a dream – she was here!’
She could feel her antagonist's arm within her grasp even now – the very flesh and
bone of it, as it seemed. She looked on the floor whither she had whirled the
spectre, but there was nothing to be seen (57-58).
Rhoda’s ability to imagine almost a photographic likeness of Gertrude alerts us to the uncanny
element within the tale as also to her supernatural powers. The midnight incubus results probably
form Rhoda’s ‘unrelenting contemplation’ of the ‘new wife’ (Keys 113). Ruth Firor in her

powerful book on Hardy and Folkways locates the spectre to black witchcraft and links it to the
‘nightmare’ of western folklore:
Nightmare, that is, the oppression felt at such times, was believed to be a sort of
incubus; our Teutonic ancestors called the night-riding spirit an ‘alb’, which also
means a witch; and still more picturesquely, the “on-leaper.” Rhoda Brook was
hag-ridden, a victim of dreadful nightmare (97).
However what problematizes the situation in ‘The Withered Arm’ is the absence of conscious
intention to harm as present in the case of Susan Nunsuch and Eustacia in Return, rather Hardy
shows that Gertrude is unaware of Rhoda’s existence and her reasons of jealousy, until they visit
Conjuror Trendle in late summer. Hence, the source of the incubus is actually the very person it
oppresses and terrorizes – that is Rhoda herself! Indeed, Hardy, who is well known for his
extensive notes and extracts drawn from literary and life sources for his fiction, in his notebook
recorded a similar incident during the period when he was composing the story. The note records
the superstition which confirms the fact of Rhoda’s malignant powers of ‘overlooking’:
February 5. Heard a story of a farmer who was “overlooked” (malignly affected)
by himself. He used to go and examine his stock every morning before breakfast
with anxious scrutiny. The animals pined away. He went to a conjuror or white
witch, who told him he had no enemy; that the evil was of his own causing, the eye
of a fasting man being very blasting: that he shoud eat a “dew-bit” before going to
survey any possession about which he had hopes (The Life and Work of Thomas
Hardy 204-205).
Thus Rhoda ‘overlooks’ herself and her own jealousy manifests as the spectre. This dual aspect
of the farmer of his notebook record as both victim and perpetrator of his misfortune was
probably of immense interest to Hardy and he transposes this unto Rhoda Brook in the short

story. While there is the presence of black witchcraft in the story in the form of Rhoda’s
‘overlooking’ powers, there is the white witch in the figure of Conjuror Trendle and such
Conjurors being recurrent figures in Hardy’s Wessex. It is the same Trendle whom Henchard
visits to know the fate of the harvests in The Mayor of Casterbridge and hence a unified body of
beliefs, folkways and superstitions is present in Hardy’s partly-real partly-dream country of
Wessex. It is here, at Trendle’s, that Gertrude probably sees the shape of Rhoda in the white of
the egg and comes to know of her relation to her life only gradually in the course of the years.
Hardy has been criticized often for his macabre interest in morbid details of hangings,
found in his notebooks and in his ghostwritten autobiography TheLife, and it recurs here in this
short story where the fates of the two rival women are intertwined and finally blasted in the
hanging of Rhoda’s son. Gertrude who fails to cure the blight on her arm despite all remedies
and trials is finally prescribed touching it at the neck of a hanged man to cause “the turn o’ the
blood” in order for her to return to her earlier state of beauty prior to the dream six years ago. It
is at the coffin of the dead illegitimate son of Rhoda and Gertrude’s husband where the two
women understand the true meaning of the dream – Rhoda’s blight upon the marriage of Farmer
Crick and Gertrude turns upon her. Just as she had unconsciously focused upon Gertrude and
her marriage to cast the deadly rot in it Gertrude’s creative imagination focuses strongly upon the
hanging which alone will cure her, finally turns upon her just as the spectre of her creation did!
The story leaves one with a sense of spine-chilling horror as also with pathos in the fate
of both women who are caught up in the mesh of patriarchal oppression and unfairness. What is
noticeable also is the significance of the locale or setting, like in The Return of the Native, where
Egdon heath is a place in which witchcraft and supernatural visitations thrive and all its
characters and their superstitions are painstakingly explained by the narrator and linked
ultimately to the chthonic setting. So also in ‘The Withered Arm’ the story is set around the
easternmost edges of Egdon Heath and the “supernatural exists as a gap in the everyday world,

rupturing the smooth surface of life”(Keys 118). But final image of Rhoda milking, the very
image with which the story began, reiterates the fact about how “seasonal time reasserts its
control in this final tableau, after the disruptions of the supernatural events have died out” (Keys
Hardy’s interest in the weird, the macabre and ghosts can be traced from the entire gamut
of his writing as well as from his autobiography. Often the supernatural in Hardy is not related
to ghosts or spirits but with fusion of science and fantasy with imagination, creating something
which is at once reminiscent of Gothic horror and at once the predecessor of scientific ideas. The
famous story from ‘a Group of Noble Dames’ titled ‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’ is a test
case of such sensational fiction for which Hardy has been repeatedly criticised. Yet the entire
collection is important as romance in them is heavily marked by the contemporary Darwinian
ideas of natural selection and of Eugenics. This tale as also many others in this volume would
mark out Hardy as a successful writer of fantasy or science fiction.
‘Barbara’ is set in the eighteenth century, where a very handsome, yet poor and untitled
youth, Edmund Willowes elopes with an aristocrat Barbara. She runs away to avoid being
forcibly married off to the aristocrat Lord Uplandtowers. After sometime elapses of the marriage
and the immense sexual attraction which Barbara has for Edmund has somewhat waned, she also
realizes and regrets the social loss that she has suffered due to such a match. It is at this juncture
that the alienated parents forgive them and take them back in their fold, sending Willowes away
on the continent, apparently to make him a better partner for Barbara but actually because they
probably sense their daughter’s gradual ambivalence towards him. Willowes is severely burnt
and maimed in Italy in a fire and returns only to find Barbara revolted by his ugliness. Depressed
by his own condition and Barbara’s involuntary rejection, Willowes leaves and eventually dies.
Barbara remarried with Lord Uplandtowers, but the marriage suffers firstly because of Barbara’s
fear of him and secondly because of the arrival of a life size statue of Willowes, which

commissioned in Italy during his lifetime arrives after his death, to which Barbara now clings
with all her resurgent love and lust for her former husband as the statue embodies that beauty
before its disfigurement. Jeanette R Shumaker in her landmark essay “Abjection and
Degeneration in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’ ” says:
That sex with Uplandtowers is not quotidian, but threatening, is suggested by
Barbara’s fear of him. She can control the statue of her first husband in a way that
she cannot control Uplandtowers; Barbara is freer to feel sexual pleasure through
contemplation of the statue than in the arms of her living husband (7).
It is this practice which brings the element of conflict and violence into the life of Barbara and
Uplandtowers and turns this into a tale of Gothic horror and repression. Hardy emphasizes the
cruelty and macabre of the punitive measures undertaken by Lord Uplandtowers to both teach
Barbara a lesson for rejecting him twice – once by choosing the handsome willowes over his
noble blood and the other of choosing the statue above him – and thereby reducing her to an
abject status. Barbara’s obsession with the statue is removed by getting it defaced and getting it
painted in life-like colours so that it resembles the first husband injured in the fire accident.
Having done this, the statue is kept in a wardrobe near Barbara’s bed and she is compelled to see
it every night by candlelight, thus terrorizing her until she finally says that she no longer loves
Edmund but only Uplandtowers. The aura of deep revenge and horror which Hardy builds up in
Barbara’s encounter with the deformed statue deserves quoting:
That night she slept, but he kept awake. According to the tale, she murmured soft
words in her dream; and he knew that the tender converse of her imaginings was
held with one whom he had supplanted but in name. At the end of her dream the
Countess of Uplandtowers awoke and arose, and then the enactment of former
nights was repeated. Her husband remained still and listened. Two strokes sounded

from the clock in the pediment without, when, leaving the chamber-door ajar, she
passed along the corridor to the other end, where, as usual, she obtained a light. So
deep was the silence that he could even from his bed hear her softly blowing the
tinder to a glow after striking the steel. She moved on into the boudoir, and he
heard, or fancied he heard, the turning of the key in the closet-door. The next
moment there came from that direction a loud and prolonged shriek, which
resounded to the furthest corners of the house. It was repeated, and there was the
noise of a heavy fall (271).
Lord Uplandtowers waiting for just this reaction rushes to his fainted wife and carrying her back
to their room while “Pressing her face to his without saying a word, he carried her back to her
room, endeavouring as he went to disperse her terrors by a laugh in her ear, oddly compounded
of causticity, predilection, and brutality” (271) asks her whether she loves Edmund still only to
be replied thus:
“No – no!” she faltered, shuddering, with her expanded eyes fixed on her husband.
“He is too terrible – no, no!”
“You are sure?”
“Quite sure!” replied the poor broken-spirited Countess”(271).

And the sadist ascertains from the regain of her elasticity of her nature that another dose or two
of theritual would surely cure Barbara of her nightly truancy. And what he does to implement
such a morbid and cruel practice has been termed by Rosemary Sumner as Hardy’s depiction of
‘aversion therapy’ which was to become a recognized practice in medical science and treatment:
In short, he allowed the doors to remain unclosed at the foot of the bed, and the
wax-tapers burning; and such was the strange fascination of the grisly exhibition
that a morbid curiosity took possession of the Countess as she lay, and, at his
repeated request, she did again look out from the coverlet, shuddered, hid her eyes,

and looked again, all the while begging him to take it away, or it would drive her
out of her senses. But he would not do so yet, and the wardrobe was not locked till
The scene was repeated the next night. Firm in enforcing his ferocious correctives,
he continued the treatment till the nerves of the poor lady were quivering in agony
under the virtuous tortures inflicted by her lord, to bring her truant heart back to
The third night, when the scene had opened as usual and she lay staring with
immense wild eyes at the horrid fascination, on a sudden she gave an unnatural
laugh; she laughed more and more, staring at the image, till she literally shrieked
with laughter: then there was silence, and he found her to have become insensible.
He thought she had fainted, but soon saw that the event was worse: she was in an
epileptic fit. He started up, dismayed by the sense that, like many other subtle
personages, he had been too exacting for his own interests. Such love as he was
capable of, though rather a selfish gloating than a cherishing solicitude, was fanned
into life on the instant. He closed the wardrobe with the pulley, clasped her in his
arms, took her gently to the window, and did all he could to restore her.
It was a long time before the Countess came to herself, and when she did so, a
considerable change seemed to have taken place in her emotions. She flung her
arm around him, and with gasps of fear abjectly kissed him many times, at last
bursting into tears. She had never wept in this scene before.
“You'll take it away, dearest – you will!” she begged plaintively.
“If you love me.”
“I do – oh, I do!”
“And hate him, and his memory?”
“Yes – yes!”

“I cannot endure recollection of him!” cried the poor Countess slavishly. “It fills
me with shame – how could I ever be so depraved! I'll never behave badly again,
Uplandtowers; and you will never put the hated statue again before my eyes?”
Thus, subjected to the cruel, sadist and punitive statue game of her aristocratic husband Lord
Uplandtowers, who compels her to view the mutilated statue of her former husband, she is
psychologically beaten to abjection. The horrors of the vision leave Barbara the wreck of her
former self and she wastes away after repeated miscarriages. The villainy embodied by
Uplandtowers, the gothic screams of Barbara, her fainting away, the eerie spectacle of the
mutilated statue of Edmond in the candle light conspicuously highlights the Gothic nature of this
tale of class obsession and the ideas of racial degeneration which were in wide circulation among
the aristocrats of England. Judith Halberstam’s ideas about the Gothic specifically help to
identify this shorts story as Gothic fiction: “Gothic … is a textual machine, a technology that
transforms class struggle, hostility towards women, and tensions arising out of the emergent
ideology of racism into what looks like sexual or psychosexual battles between and within
individuals” (33). It becomes Hardy’s silent critique of class pride and female persecution, where
Barbara’s own aristocratic fear of racial degeneration and Lord Uplandtowers’ sadism only end
in the termination of his lineage for the lack of a male heir.iii
It is interesting to note that the editors of The Graphic, the periodical for which Barbara
was commissioned as part of A Group of Noble Dames, compelled Hardy to remove the details
of physical abuse which dramatized the Lord’s early cruelty towards Barbara, and it remains
absent from the book version too. What remains according to Shumaker is the “mild mental
abuse of wives” (10) which was more of a Victorian norm and is still revolting in its present and
censored state!

In traditional Gothic romances, writers presented innocent propriety-bound maidens
hounded by vicious monomaniacal villains, the unreal next to the unreal. In Hardy’s novels and
especially his short stories he had the important task and the desire to blend the rural realism
with the tragic mischance which was part of any classic sensation fiction. Zabel states:
The most important tension for Hardy – the very heart of his aesthetic in fact – was
the simple desire to juxtapose plausible human beings and strange uncommonevent,
the real and the fantastic (4).

Thus, this remains at the core of his short fiction. The intrusion of supernatural, pseudo-science
and gothic horror makes Hardy’s shorter fiction truly befitting an artist who above all felt the
need to tell a tale which would hold the reader’s attention, like that of the Ancient Mariner’s!



Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories, Aldershot, UK, and Vermont, USA: Ashgate, 1997.


Thomas Hardy, ‘Wessex Tales’, in The Collected Short Stories of Thomas Hardy ed. Desmond Hawkins (London:
Macmillan, 1988). Future references are to this edition and page numbers will be parenthetically included in the text.

Shumaker explains the concept of ‘abjection’ using Julia Kristeva’s definition in her famous essay, ‘Powers of
Horror: An Essay on Abjection’. Kristeva describes the abject as “the not-I”. Kristeva’s theory explains racial, class,
gender, national, and religious hatreds. Shumaker says: ‘Degenerationism is one manifestation of the tendency to
label “others” as abject; degenerationism was used by some well-heeled Victorians to justify acting upon their
hatred of those whom they saw as abject’

Work Cited

Firor, Ruth Anita. Folkways in Thomas Hardy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
1931. Print.
Goldstein, Norma Walrath. ‘Thomas Hardy's Victorian Gothic: Reassessing Hardy's fiction and
his Gothic sensibility’Diss. University of Rhode Island, 1989. Web.27 Oct 2015.
Hardy, Thomas.The Personal Notebooks of Thomas Hardy.Ed. Richard H. Taylor.
London: Macmillan, 1967. Print.
——The Collected Short Stories of Thomas Hardy.Ed. Desmond Hawkins. London:
Macmillan, 1988. Print.
——. The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy.Ed. Michael Millgate. London: Macmillan, 1984.
Heber, Janice Stewart. “Critical Reception of Thomas Hardy's Short Stories: Finding ‘The Key
to the Art.’” Annual Meeting of the College English Association.Pittsburgh, PA. 23
March 1992. Conference presentation.
Halberstam, Judith. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham: Duke
University Press, 1995. Print.
Keys, Romney T. ‘Hardy’s Uncanny Narrative: A Reading of “The Withered Arm” ’. Texas
Studies in Literature and Language, 27:1 (1985: Spring), pp. 106-123. Print.
Shumaker, Jeanette R. “Abjection and Degeneration in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Barbara of the House
of Grebe’ ”.College Literature 26: 2 (Spring, 1999): 1-17.Print.
Sumner, Rosemary. Thomas Hardy: Psychological Novelist, London: Macmillan, 1981. Print.
Zabel, Morton. “Hardy in Defense of His Art: The Aesthetic of Incongruity”. Southern Review
6 (Summer, 1940):125-49. Print.

“Truth to Nature”: Charting Social Time through Narration in The Woman in
Sabrina Gilchrist

“Time will show, Mr. Hartright … time will show” (Collins 157)

Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859-1860) fixates on the “right” time: the timing
of the crime for the villainous Count Fosco, Walter Hartright’s quest to uncover Fosco’s timing,
and the enumerative narratological viewpoints used to piece together Fosco’s crime. Collins
emphasizes the importance of time by methodically dating several of the narratological
viewpoints and regularly referencing the time of day within the entries. He also invokes timerelated language throughout the novel (“time” is used eighty times and “o’clock” is used forty
times, not to mention the frequent descriptions of the seasons and position of the sun).This is
because the timing of events is crucial to uncovering the truth about Laura Fairlie’s identity.
Therefore, Collins creates a structure where in each of the several narrators gives portions of the
story to avoid any gaps in time. His primary narrator, Walter Hartright, explains to the reader
that in order to reach the truth of Fosco’s crime, he (Hartright) plans to make select characters
“relate their own experience” (Collins 5). Collins’ use of these multiple narratological lenses
reveals a Victorian desire for precision coupled with the uncertainty and discomfort about what
the “true” time is. The “true” time, however, appears achievable only if a group of people agrees
upon it.
Similar to the characters of the novel, Collins’ Victorian readers must agree upon the
timeline of events, so when that timeline was questioned by one of Collins’ contemporaries, it

was necessary to rectify the error immediately.1 On 30 October 1860, E.S. Dallas, a reviewer
from (ironically) The Times, illustrated the Victorian desire for accuracy and proof, prompting
the rewrite of Collins’ third volume. Dallas “fearlessly denounces” it because of an error in
timing (Dallas 6). Dallas argues, “The question of a date is the pivot upon which the novel
turns” – Collins’ error marks The Woman in White as “a mockery, a delusion, a snare; and all the
incidents in it are not merely improbable – they are absolutely impossible” (6). And though he
admits that the story “can survive such a blunder” because of the “eager thousands” who have
“devoured” it, he concludes with a biting remark: “all who read will be deceived and delighted”
(6). Although many Victorian readers enjoyed the novel without realizing the error, Collins’
reaction signals the importance of accuracy once the error was made public. To achieve the
desired effect, the characters (and the reader) must fully believe in the possibility of Hartright’s
chronology of events. Therefore, upon discovering the timing errors mentioned by the reviewer,
Collins contacted Edward Marston, his publisher, in a letter dated one day after the publication
of the review (31 October 1860): “The critic in ‘The Times’ is (between ourselves) right about
the mistake in time…we will set it right at the first opportunity” (Collins 662). Collins then made
several changes before creating the next edition and apologized to his audience in the preface
about the “technical errors,” making it clear he revised as a means of maintaining “public
Dallas’ review and Collins’ reaction to it mark a fixation on the precision of recording
time. Much like the villagers at the end of The Woman in White, the Victorian readers must be
convinced of one true time. Two historical phenomena concerning the tracking and recording of
time can help contemporary readers to contextualize the novel’s emphasis on an ultimate
timeline: more historical accounts were being published and read by a wider audience, and

England was rapidly changing from multiple distinct local times to standardized time. The
convergence of these two historical moments – the standardization of time and the influx of
varied historical accounts – likely influenced Victorian authors, particularly in their structural
and narratological choices. For example, The Woman in White’s Walter Hartright seeks the
approval of the villagers for Laura’s true identity in a similar way to Victorian historical works
seeking the consensus of scholars and the reading public. Therefore, the distant
memories/histories of the characters in The Woman in White are designed to emphasize the
importance of an agreed upon communal time, particularly for politics and primogeniture.2 To
better understand the implications of standardized time and publications of multiple histories, it
is necessary to provide a historical context. Tracking and recording time impacted Victorian
readers, but was also internalized by authors and reflected in the structural experimentations of
Victorian novels like The Woman in White (e.g. multiple narrators, multiple versions of the same
events, memories, dreams, false timelines, etc.).
An influx of published histories created disparate versions of recorded historical events,
prompting Victorian readers to determine which account was most accurate or conflate the
histories as a means to better understand a single linear timeline of the event. Martin Daunton
(2005) describes the sudden increase of educational texts as a “knowledge explosion” that was
“generated by an increase in the supply of information and its rapid diffusion through cheap
printing, and by an increase in demand for knowledge with an expansion in education and
income” (Daunton15). The “increase in demand,” likely stemming from a desire for selfimprovement (thereby influencing their social status), particularly impacted the publication of
history. Anthony Leon Brundage and Richard A. Cosgrove (2015) articulate how history became
“a vital component of Victorian culture … [Histories were read, but] also reviewed and

discussed in journals of opinion and popular views” (Brundage and Cosgrove 2). Various
publications and discussions prompted disagreements among the authors, who “rarely agreed
with one another” (2). While Brundage and Cosgrove use this information to discuss a
deliberately constructed national identity, I would instead call attention to a divided national
story where all versions claim to be factual. Each published and discussed historical event
became its own distinct timeline, and therefore, its own story, many of which could neither be
definitively proven nor disproven. England’s history, then, became tenuous and unstable. And if
history constructed the national identity, as Brundage and Cosgrove claim, then a divided
national story (or history) would split and destabilize the English Victorian identity. Furthermore,
if factual history served as inspiration for fictitious stories, the structure of fiction would likely
reflect the same divide.
A second major shift in Victorian conceptualizations of time came in the 1840s when
England rapidly switched from local times to standardized time, a change triggered by train
schedules that used Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In 1982, Eviatar Zerubavel, a socio-historian,
considered the cause and significant effect of England’s shift from local time to GMT. Before the
1840s, the discrepancies among the wide array of local times did not appear to pose any
difficulty (Zerubavel5). However, with the punctuality of the train and the increased speed of
communication, “communities became far more dependent on one another, to the point where
some temporal coordination among them became inevitable … [and] a single uniform time
became a necessity” (6-7). Therefore, in the mid-nineteenth century, many of the public and
private clocks switched to follow the railroads’ GMT timetable (7). During this transition,
Victorian clocks with two minute hands became popular; similar to many railway stations, one of
the minute hands was set to the local time while the other was set to GMT. This move to

standardize time created, as Zerubavel argued, a shift from a “summary of individual experiences,
which are of value only for the person who experiences them” to a “category of time … [that is]
common to the group, a social time” (2). The necessity and synchronization of standardized time
prompted a shift from an individual sense of time to a more communal/social understanding of
I suggest considering Zerubavel’s theory of “social time” in relation to Collins’ literary
practice to incorporate more narrators – each contributing pieces to the history of the event.
Much like the two separate minute hands on the clocks or the varied historical accounts, multiple
narrators provided a new vantage point of viewing the timeline of the story – each moving
independently, but still reflecting the same moment. Wilkie Collins, articulates this through his
primary narrator in The Woman in White, Walter Hartright, who planned to “trace the course of
one complete series of events, by making the persons who have been most closely connected
with them, at each successive stage, relate their own experience, word for word” (Collins 5).
Hartright’s statement seems to illustrate a discomfort about the inability to capture a full story (or
a full truth) with only one perspective, particularly when the narrator did not directly witness the
event(s). Furthermore, Hartright’s statement indicates a self-awareness of the power of the
narrator and editor – capable of manipulating the timeline – signaling a need for all characters to
“relate their own experience.” This discomfort and self-awareness implies the impossibility of
knowing “the truth,” and implies that the closest approximation would require extensive research
of various perspectives as a means to piece together a conflated version of an event. The
discomfort with truth and the recording of time is then reflected in the narratological structure
and framing of fictionalized history, namely novels.

To consider the ramifications of GMT and the influx of conflicting historical works on
narration, I look to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, serialized in All the Year Round from
1859-1860 and set in 1849. In setting the novel ten years earlier than the publication, I argue that
we can better understand the impact of these two significant changes on Victorian literature as
well as examine some of the results of the emergence of social time. Collins’ emphasis of time
and his new narratological form prompted readers simultaneously to look both forwards and
backwards through multiple historical timelines (both true and fabricated) to create a more
accurate thread of events in a new social narrative/history. More specifically, I propose that
Collins’ new narrative technique disrupted the traditional linear timeline that relied on one
perspective, urging his audience to question the potentially unreliable narrators and to engage
with a historical text using social time. This narratological structure, especially seen in Victorian
gothic novels,3 reflects mid-nineteenth century technological advances and historical events that
prompted Victorians to rethink their constructions of both linear timelines and narrative structure,
developing a new style for the novel.
The novel’s new form went largely unrecognized by Collins’ contemporaries, and even
some present-day scholars, but it is the non-linear structure that links it so closely to the
development of social time.4 Barbara Leckie (1999) observes Collins’ use of court trials for
inspiration, but refutes others’ oversimplifications of the novel’s structure: “Both the lack of
linearity and the narrative unreliability are related to what is perhaps the most striking feature of
these [court] trials: the variety of perspectives from which the story is told” (Leckie 107). Like
Leckie, several critics observe the similarity between Collins’ structure and the courtroom with
its witness testimonies,5 which is a logical parallel when considering Collins’ own explanation of
his courtroom inspiration. However, Collins uses a chain analogy to describe his novel’s

courtroom structure, which seems both to contradict Leckie’s claim about a “lack of linearity”
and oversimplify his structure. In the Preface to Collins’ 1860 edition, he describes witness
testimonies as an “unfolding of the story,” and compares them to links in a chain that “progress
towards one single goal” (Collins 644). Collins explains that this method works for his novel
because “it keep[s] the story constantly moving forward” (644). This is a break from the
bildungsroman – a shift to focus exclusively on plot rather than on characterization – but his
description of the plot does not factor in the leaps in time or multiple narrative threads. It is true
that the reader can better see the unfolding of an event once the various pieces are linked
together; however, the execution of this structure actually disrupts the linear progression of the
novel, complicating this chain analogy. This indicates that even Collins struggled to describe all
of the nuances of this unfamiliar format that was more chaotic and less trustworthy than a simple
chain, coming from a variety of both reliable and unreliable sources.
Collins’ format of the novel and narration resists a formalized structure. Unlike Collins’
chain analogy, John Docker describes The Woman in White as a “narrative as collage” and lists
the many “narrative contributions, in the form of statements, letters, dreams, reported
conversations, diary extracts, letters quoted within diaries, eavesdropping, memories,
reminiscences, [and] interviews” (Docker 70). Docker’s description paints a vivid image, as if all
of the texts and narrators are collected together and placed on a canvas, allowing each story to
reach the viewer simultaneously, privileging only what the viewer decides. While I find the
analogy intriguing, it does not allow for the hierarchy of narrators. For example, Collins creates
only one overarching “public” narrator (Walter Hartright) who attempts to map out, not only his
own story, but others as well.6 Hartright acts as the overarching narrator, or editor, striving to
create one coherent string of events by controlling which narratives the reader sees and when.

This may seem reminiscent of Susan Lanser’s (1981) narratological hierarchical structure, but
the inclusion of the tombstone chapter, the paratexts/footnotes, and the inclusion of documents
throughout the novel complicate Lanser’s hierarchical structure as well.7 Therefore, Collins’
structure exists somewhere between Docker’s “collage” and Lanser’s hierarchical depiction –
privileging certain narrators, but still allowing for a disruption of that privileging. Hartright’s
structure is not easily formulated or described, in part because his structure reflected the
Victorian sense of time: one that was changing and uncertain (both in how it was measured and
how it was recorded).
The chaos can be seen more clearly when mapping Collins’ narratological structure.
Hartright enlists ten central narrators, not including the tombstone, each relating his or her own
individual set of experiences and interactions (e.g. Hester Pinhorn, Marian Halcombe, Count
Fosco, Jane Gould, and Walter Hartright’s personal journal entries, and more). Moreover, the
narrators often reference documents they have read or stories they have heard from other
characters (e.g. Sir Percival’s letter to Count Fosco, the letter from Mrs. Catherick, Pesca’s story,
etc.). Some texts, like the tombstone in Volume 3, are copied verbatim. Other texts are delivered
through characters to the narrators: Fosco’s letter is addressed to Marian, care of Mr. Kyrle, and
presented in Hartright’s narrative rather than Marian’s; John Owen’s book of transactions is
shown to Mr. Hartright; Fosco’s background is observed by Pesca and told privately to Hartright.
Once mapped, texts like Fosco’s letter or Pesca’s story about Count Fosco illustrate how far
removed evidence is from the primary narrator/editor, despite Hartright’s claims that “no
circumstance of importance … shall be related on hearsay evidence” (Collins 5). Much like the
published histories, the information and details are pulled from verbal and written accounts as
well as artifacts. The diversity of texts and perspectives creates a kind of social time when fitted

together by Hartright to provide a more comprehensive view of one event. This is clearly not a
single linear timeline: certain perspectives and events happen simultaneously, are recorded at
different times, and occur in different spaces. As the novel makes explicit, individual accounts
are not enough – Laura is incapable of proving her true identity with a few individual accounts.
Instead, it is a collection of multiple accounts whose standardization proves Laura’s identity and
is validated by the broader Victorian audience (represented by the tenants at the end of the novel
as they cheer for the living Laura). And for the thousands of The Woman in White readers, the
ending becomes a tidy heteronormative conclusion that provides marriage, a male heir, a
desexualized place for Marian as the child’s caretaker, and a single narrative timeline for the
future. Collins asserts control over the chaos of recorded history and multiple timelines by either
killing the main characters and their timelines (e.g. Count Fosco, Sir Percival, Frederick Fairlie,
Anne Catherick) or merging the main characters into a single narrative timeline (when Marian
chooses to live with the newly married Hartrights). The novel presumes a “happy ending” by
destroying the possibility of other timelines, thereby indicating that the only method to achieving
one timeline and one version of history is for everyone to agree upon the social time.
The narratological mapping of Collins’ story becomes more complex as each character
references different perspectives of time (present, past, and future), creating parallel stories in
time that overlap, separate, backtrack, and leap forward. Therefore, the visual mapping of the
novel would look more like a spider’s web than a simple line. Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa
Surridge (2008) complicate the theory of Collins’ timeline by considering the readers’ response
to the illustrations that accompanied the original publication of The Woman in White. They
suggest that the illustrations initially published in the serialized piece prompted readers to
anticipate the action of the plot, creating a number of additional potential timelines. While I

agree with their assertion that “illustration…richly complicates the linear development of plot in
Victorian serialized fiction” (Leighton and Surridge 67), their argument emphasizes the readers’
hypotheses of the story and potential directions of a future plotline rather than the movement
through time of the actual text. Therefore, I argue for are turn to Collins’ structure to illustrate
the effect of moving through time, where the “present-day” Hartright clearly organizes the
narratives based on his own desired timeline, edits what the narrators and characters are allowed
to discuss, and labels the narratives according to their speaker and date. Despite Hartright’s own
assertion that “when he [Hartright] fails, he will retire from the position of narrator; and his task
will be continued, from the point at which he has left it off, by other persons who can speak to
the circumstances under notice from their own knowledge” (Collins 5), the story does not
continue unfalteringly forward throughout the text. Instead, it is a carefully controlled and
manipulated narrative that only appears to come directly from the evidence and first-hand
Hartright’s use of footnotes and paratexts illustrates his power over the narrative, but also
juxtaposes the past with the present and illustrates a structure that is more similar to Victorian
history books than to court trials. For example, Hartright offers a translated and censored version
of Pesca’s story about the Brotherhood,8 a group of Italian revolutionists and an allusion to the
real Italian Carbonari (Collins 588-592).9 Pesca explains that he fled from Italy for “political
reasons,” namely a secret political society who sought “the destruction of tyranny, and the
assertion of the rights of the people” (Collins 588-589). It is important to note that Pesca relates
this portion of the story during Hartright’s segment, not in a chapter written by Pesca. This
means the public narrator, the “present time” Hartright, translates the conversation he had in the
past with Pesca about his distant memory that is spoken in Italian. And it is during this

conversation that the “present time” Hartright interjects in a footnote: “It is only right to mention
here, that I repeat Pesca’s statement to me, with the careful suppressions and alterations which
the serious nature of the subject and my own sense of duty to my friend demand” (588, emphasis
added). Hartright’s footnote illustrates both the power of Hartright as narrator as well as a
disruption in the linear progression of the novel. Even visually, the footnote pulls the reader
away from the main body of the text to the bottom of the page – in terms of time, a footnote
forces the reader forward through the text and the timeline, both visually (skipping to the bottom
of the page) and mentally (by recalling the “present” Hartright who is telling the story). With a
similar structure to historical textbooks (the use of footnotes and second-hand accounts), Collins
invites his reader to read history with the same critical and discerning eye as his crime fiction.
Much like the paratexts and footnotes where Hartright briefly interjects for clarification,
he acknowledges his power as an editor over the entire text at the end of the novel, namely in his
ability to arrange the narratives as best suits his agenda. As he explains, “When Mr. Gilmore
returned to us, a year later, he assisted the design of these pages, at my request, by writing the
Narrative which appears early in the story under his name, and which, though first in order of
precedence, was thus, in order of time, the last that I received” (Collins 641). Collins uses
language that signals his role as narrator, like “design” and “precedence,” illustrating Hartright’s
power over the narrative and suggesting the story can be manipulated based on his desires and
intentions as the narrator. Hartright determines whose stories are necessary to print in full, whose
stories to title “under his [or her] name,” and whose stories are most important. By creating
distinct perspectives and acknowledging an intentional ordering/structuring of these storylines,
Collins creates a sense of overlapping timelines that can send the reader back and forth within
the chronology of the book, but also later and earlier than the central sequence of events. In the

aforementioned example, Hartright’s note about Mr. Gilmore implies a present that is beyond the
series of events of the main story – a present where the public narrating Hartright is constructing,
manipulating, and arranging his preferred version of Laura’s story. This offers the reader a better
view into the power of an author and editor who can further his/her own agenda and sway the
reader based on structure and censorship.
The past and present are frequently paired, but Collins also incorporates futuristic
language while discussing the past and present, creating multiple planes of existence
simultaneously for the reader and prompting the reader to move from the familiar and real to the
unfamiliar and imagined reality of the future. For example, much like Hartright’s interjection in
Pesca’s story, Hartright inserts himself into Mr. Fairlie’s narrative, noting, “The manner in which
Mr. Fairlie’s Narrative, and other Narratives that are shortly to follow it, were originally obtained,
forms the subject of an explanation which will appear at a later period” (Collins 345). In this
passage, Hartright gestures to the past, present, and future. He clearly states that the passages
were “obtained” – referring to when he initially collected them (in the past). He then situates
himself in the present by identifying an unreached future that “will appear at a later period.” His
omniscient understanding of what the reader has yet to see/learn gestures to the future. Even the
language itself shuttles quickly through time: “are shortly to follow” (present), “were …
obtained” (past), “will appear” (future). And yet, this language does not necessarily register for
the reader as problematic because Collins has already acclimated the reader to moving rapidly
back and forth through time.10
Furthermore, all three locations of time11—past, present, and future—come together in a
kind of artificial time that can simultaneously support all three periods. By “artificial time,” I
mean the created false realities that further disrupt a linear concept of time, namely because the

timeline is framed by reality, yet produces imagined results (i.e., the dreams and lies in the
novel). Psychologists Katherine MacDuffie and George A. Mashour (2010) describe how dreams
interact with our conscious and subconscious concepts of time: “our waking thoughts are
organized along an internal time line, [but] during sleep, the internal time line switches off…
[This allows for] a unique state of consciousness [dreaming] that incorporates three temporal
dimensions: experience of the present, processing of the past, and preparation for the future”
(MacDuffie and Mashour 189, emphasis added).The novel’s structure utilizes a similar structure
by incorporating dreams, allowing the past, present, and future to influence one another and exist
concurrently throughout the telling of the story. Hartright observes the impact of Laura’s
traumatic past on her dreams where, even after they are happily married, she relives those
moments in her subconscious:
At times, dreams of the terrible past still disconnectedly recalled to her, in the mystery of
sleep, the events of which her waking memory had lost all trace … I saw the tears come
slowly through her closed eyelids, I heard the faint murmuring words escape her which
told me that her spirit was back again on the fatal journey from Blackwater Park. (Collins
Hartright’s description makes it clear that Laura had mentally returned to her life in Blackwater
Park, and it was this return to the past (not the present) that caused her pain. Hartright’s language
about a “terrible past [that] still disconnectedly recalled to her” illustrates both the break of the
timeline and his unease with the disruption. Both Laura and Hartright attempt to avoid bad
memories (a mental return to the past), so they create a “rule” to avoid “referring to the past”
(Collins 642). However, much like dreams and memories, the book’s structure cannot escape an
overlap of the past and present, or a recognition of the past’s and present’s effects on the future.

Even in one short passage, Laura is transported back into the past, experiencing those traumatic
moments again as if they were reality. Similarly, the reader experiences the past in the same way:
since the reader was never physically in the space, the memory of the space is identical to when
it was first imagined while reading. Collins’ structure utilizes this reader experience to evoke a
desired emotion, but it also allows the reader’s conscious/awake time to work in the same way as
a dream state where all three “temporal dimensions” can exist for the reader through Laura’s
The untruths that are told throughout the text have a comparable effect, creating a past,
present, and future of alternate timelines. The lies told by Sir Percival and Count Fosco, among
others, convince the primary characters and, in turn, convince the reader. The characters and
readers erect a false timeline in their minds until Hartright is able to reconstruct the “truth,” or at
least his version of it. Much like the previously mentioned varied historical accounts of the same
event, these fabricated realities (the dreams, daydreams, and lies that are so common in Victorian
sensation fiction) still influence the reader, despite being outside the primary timeline. The
mixture of real and imagined threads forces readers to take a more active role, sifting through to
find the “real” timeline and reliable narrators. To do this, they must (like Hartright) go back and
forth through the various characters’ timelines to justify their conclusions. When the reader’s
suspicions are confirmed, they can quickly discard the lies/dreams/daydreams and reconstruct the
event based on the information they believe to be valid, thus determining what happened. In
other words, they de-value the individual account, whether lies or dreams, and instead, find truth
in social time. This can be seen toward the end of the novel in Hartright’s appeal to the villagers
to confirm Laura’s identity (Collins 633-635). Hartright must convince the villagers to question
any previously heard reports of Laura’s death, including the tombstone, an account of death

literally set in stone. The villagers must listen to Hartright’s construction of the events, lies, and
various accounts in the hopes that they will come to his conclusion: Anne Catherick is buried in
the grave marked as Laura’s, but Laura is still alive. It is only once they all accept this as truth
that they can, together, “see the false inscription struck off the tombstone with their own eyes.
[And when] those three words, ‘Laura, Lady Glyde,’ vanished from sight … there was a great
heave of relief among the crowd, as if they felt that the last fetters of the conspiracy had been
struck off Laura herself” (Collins 635). In order to create a social time, Hartright and the
villagers must jointly agree on one construction of events and change historical markers, like the
tombstone, to reflect that version. The “great heave of relief” comes when the final recorded
marker of a false timeline is erased, verifying one true timeline to accept for the social time, and
illustrating the unease that comes with not knowing a singular proven truth. Like the villagers,
Victorian readers of The Woman in White created reading groups to discuss and sift through the
serialized story, factoring in the various accounts in the text, but also valuing the input of a
community of readers. These readers reflected that same desire to create a single trajectory of
future of events for the characters in The Woman in White before its full release, once again
relying on a social time to construct the most likely timeline.
The emphasis on time, likely influenced in part by the mid-century push to “standardize”
time in England, reveals a desire for precision coupled with the uncertainty and discomfort about
what “true” time is.

Standardized time needed to be agreed upon by each English city,

privileging an artificial/constructed time over local time and over a “natural” time (based on the
sun). Similarly, Collins’ construction of the story using multiple narrators as evidence reflects
both the multitude of historians as well as the fixation on time, timing, and the “right” time,
requiring several accounts to determine the “true” chronology of events. Most importantly,

however, are the many perspectives and stories that comprise the novel and disrupt a traditional
linear timeline. Unlike the traditional bildungsroman narratives, The Woman In White
problematizes linearity while simultaneously emphasizing the centrality of plot. This reflects a
broader Victorian discomfort with the standardizing of time, the devaluing of individual accounts,
and the privileging of social time. Furthermore, it illustrates a frustration with the limiting
structure of novels and historical texts that did not allow for multiple perspectives of time or the
potential of more than one truth. Therefore, it prompts us to question the efficiency of how time
was and is recorded – one clock was not enough, one historical perspective was not enough, one
narrator was not enough – and to record social time, we must rethink our linear understanding of
time and how to track it.


Collins famously made a timing error in Volume 3 that would have disproven Hartright’s theory about the true
identities of Laura and Anne Catherick.
Though I do not detail it here, two important tales of parentage are presented in the book: Sir Percival Glyde’s and
Anne Catherick’s. The complicated histories of both characters point to the problems of primogeniture and the
importance of establishing a clear history of identity that is recognized and accepted by the community (which I
touch on throughout the paper in terms of Laura’s identity). The political focus will be developed more fully later in
the essay.
Similar narratological structures can be seen in other Victorian novels such as Charles Dickens’ and Wilkie
Collins’ The Wreck of the Golden Mary (1856), Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Collins’ The Moonstone, and Emily
Brönte’s Wuthering Heights (1847). In “Multiple Narratives & Relative Truths: A Study of The Ring and the Book,
The Woman in White, and The Moonstone,” Sue Lonoff juxtaposes this text’s multiple narrators with Collins’ The
Moonstone (1867-1868) and Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (1868-1869). Lonoff argues that the
narrative structures “enabled them to probe the relations between words and events they point to, demonstrate
various uses of perspective, comment on contemporary social ills, and play … interesting games with the members
of the audience.”
Before the serial was completed in 1860, reviewers were already critiquing The Woman in White’s structure. In the
Times, for example, one compared it to the previously popular epistolary styles, seeing nothing new in its structure
(cited in Bachman and Cox 17). Sue Lonoff (1982) argues a structure reminiscent of court trials rather than
epistolary novels, but still sees the novel as “linear”: “The action advances step by step, with occasional flashbacks
or departures from chronology to accommodate some piece of missing evidence. The number of speakers is
arbitrary” (144).
See John Sutherland’s introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics’ Woman in White, Barbara Leckie’s Culture
and Adultery, Sue Lonoff’s “Multiple Narratives & Relative Truths,” C.K. Hyder’s “Wilkie Collins and The Woman
in White,” and A. B. Emrys’ Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel (188-189).
I use “public” narrator as Susan Lanser describes in Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice
(15). Lanser distinguishes between the public and private voices: “Private voice [is] narration directed toward a

narratee who is a fictional character, [whereas] public voice [is] narration directed toward a narratee ‘outside’ the
fiction who is analogous to the historical reader” (15).
See Susan Lanser’s The Narrative Act: Point of View in Prose Fiction and Bernard Duyfhuizen’s Narratives of
Transmission (32-34).
Hartright explains how Pesca struggled for the correct words to use in English, so Hartright “suggested to him
[Pesca] that he should express himself in Italian, while I [Hartright] used English in putting any questions which
might be necessary to my [Hartright’s] narrative” (Collins 588). The story is then presented to the reader in English,
not the original Italian.
In note 389, Sutherland references Sucksmith’s note about the Carbonari who “saluted each other as buonicugini,
‘good cousins’” (698).
For example, in Pesca’s story, he references current events (e.g. the Italian Carbonari), but moments later, he
references an England of the relatively distant past: “It is not for you to say – you Englishmen, who have conquered
your freedom so long ago, that you have conveniently forgotten what blood you shed, and what extremities you
proceeded to, in the conquering … In the time of your first Charles you might have done us justice; the long luxury
of your own freedom has made you incapable of doing us justice now” (Collins 589-590). Pesca connects his current
experience as an Italian to the history of the Englishmen from approximately two centuries earlier.
I use “locations of time” here because both dreams and lies create a separate space, filled with characters and
places much like the timeline of the actual story.

Works Cited
Bachman, Maria K., and Don Richard Cox. “Introduction.” The Woman in White. Ed. Maria K.
Bachman and Don Richard Cox. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2006. 9-37. Ebook.
Brundage, Anthony Leon, and Richard A. Cosgrove. British Historians and National Identity:
From Hume to Churchill. London: Routledge, 2015. Ebook.
Collins, Wilkie. The Woman in White. Ed. John Sutherland. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2008. Print.
Dallas, E. S. “The Woman in White.” The Times 30 Oct. 1860: 6. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.
Daunton, Martin. “Introduction.” The Organisation of Knowledge in Victorian Britain. Ed.
Martin Daunton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 1-28. Print.
Docker, John. “Myths of Origin: 1970s Screen Theory and Literary History.” Postmodernism
and Popular Culture: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
64-80. Print.
Duyfhuizen, Bernard. Narratives of Transmission. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University
Press, 1992. Print.
Emrys, A. B. Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel. Jefferson:
McFarland & Company, Inc., 2011. Print.
Hyder, C. K. “Wilkie Collins and The Woman in White.” PMLA 54 (1939): 297-303. Web. 28
Dec 2015.
Lanser, Susan. Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1992. Print.
---. The Narrative Act: Point of View in Prose Fiction. Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1981. Print.

Leckie, Barbara. Culture and Adultery: The Novel, the Newspaper, and the Law, 1857-1914.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. Print.
Leighton, Mary Elizabeth and Lisa Surridge. “The Plot Thickens: Toward a Narratological
Analysis of Illustrated Serial Fiction in the 1860s.” Victorian Studies 51.1 (Autumn,
2008): 65-101. Web. 22 Jul 2015.
MacDuffie, K. and G. A. Mashour. “Dreams and the Temporality of Consciousness.” The
American Journal of Psychology. 123.2 (Summer, 2010): 189-97. Web. 22 Jul 2015.
Sutherland, John. “Introduction.” The Woman in White. Ed. John Sutherland. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2008. Print.
Zerubavel, Eviatar. “The Standardization of Time: A Socio-historical Perspective.” American
Journal of Sociology. 88.1 (Jul., 1982): 1-23. Web. 22 Jul 2015.

Those “dreadful” Victorians –
Penny Dreadful as Neo-Victorian Speculative Fiction
Alison Halsall

“The Victorians function as our threatening doubles and distorted freak-show / funhouse
mirror images” (Kohlke and Gutleben 4-5).

This paper examines the particular “dreadfulness” associated with the nineteenth
century in neo-Victorian speculative fictions, specifically Showtime’s recent horror
drama television series Penny Dreadful (2014).1 Gruesome violence and shocking sexual
themes are very much de rigueur in neo-Victorian speculative texts, Penny Dreadful in
particular. Non-normative and alternative sexualities, not to mention monstrous and
supernatural creatures from Victorian fiction showcase a distinctly different and entirely
fantastical vision of those reportedly stodgy Victorians. In a different category altogether
than John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman with its painstaking attention given
to Victorian detail or A. S. Byatt’s metafictive novel Possession which engages with
feminism, sexuality, and religious doubt as central concepts in mid-Victorian history,
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful refocuses its fantastical approach to the nineteenth century
by depicting the mythical creatures and supernatural entities (vampires, werewolves,
demons, devils) who perambulate the foggy streets of 1891 London alongside characters
from some of Victorian literature’s most sensational stories.
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is neo-Victorian speculative fiction in terms of its
project and its content. The very title takes its inspiration from low-brow literature of the
time, predominantly sensational literature popularly characterized as “horrible” and

“awful,” and in so doing releases itself from serious questions of historical and literary
accuracy. It reinterprets classic literary creations freely by mediating them through atypical genres, horror and supernatural thriller, revisiting canonical works of Gothic and
Aesthetic fiction as sensational subject matter populated by the mythical creatures and
supernatural entities of speculative fiction.

It thus populates an authentic-seeming

Victorian present with re-deployed figures from Victorian fiction (Victor Frankenstein
and Dorian Gray) and iconic figures from Victorian culture and society (the prostitute,
the spinster/clairvoyant, the American cowboy, the colonialist adventurer, the slave trader,
and the Aesthete) in its fantastical recreation of the nineteenth century. Penny Dreadful
fastens upon the late nineteenth century not because it is heavily invested in capturing the
elusive “real” of the Victorian period, but because it relishes in the period as it is
popularly re-imagined in the twenty-first century, relying on stereotypes and popular
details about the period and its literatures. Historical authenticity quickly gives way to the
tantalizing sexual spectacle of speculative fiction that tells us more about our twentyfirst-century sexual preoccupations than about the Victorian era. Dorian Gray’s BDSM
sequence with Brona Croft, the prostitute, capitalizes on the furor ignited by Fifty Shades
of Grey, conclusively blowing away any conception of Victorian prudery. Clairvoyant
Vanessa Ives’ horrifying possession during Madame Kali’s séance is more reminiscent of
The Exorcist than of tales of possession in the nineteenth century, once again shattering
any assumption about the Victorian period as being somehow staid. In this regard, the
“dreadful” of Penny Dreadful renders the delicious paradoxes of the nineteenth century
as distinctly salacious food for modern viewers.

Allusively inter-textual, Penny Dreadful talks back to the Victorians through
popular literary texts of the day, while at the same time “authenticating” its representation
of the nineteenth century by means of cultural artefacts (costumes, technologies, signage)
typical of this historical period. The materiality of the past can be traced through a focus
given to period detail, the series’ fidelity further communicated through the authenticity
of the basic storylines associated with such recognisable Gothic or Victorian texts as
Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Showtime’s fascinating reconstruction of the Victorian period in part through the recycling of names and plotlines
from canonized Victorian novels can appear to be an experiment in historiography
created from the world of literature; it builds the complicated world that literary
characters would inhabit if they were treated as historical reality. The “plurality of textual
voices – literary and critical” (Davies 2) that is typical of neo-Victorianism is in truth
something that aligns this genre with the genre of speculative fiction, which in itself, as a
loose literary category under which publishers and booksellers lump together science
fiction, fantasy, and some versions of pulp romance (Gill 72), is “marked by diversity”.
Thus, Penny Dreadful is an example of neo-Victorian speculative fiction in the
mixture of fantasy and Gothic fiction it offers viewers, in its re-thinking of and recreation of the age of Victoria according to the narrative economies of popular literature
of the day. It authenticates its re-creation of the past through the fictional appropriations
it makes. Indeed, its use of popular Victorian stories and genres creates a space in which
the speculative story can unfurl. A neo-Victorian program like Penny Dreadful makes
entertainment of the contradictions that nineteenth-century society offers with its
extremes of wealth and poverty, high morality and vice, celebrations of purity and filth,

philanthropy and inhuman exploitation (Kohlke and Gutleben 7). The speculative aspects
of its fictional narrative magnify these contradictions and show them as being inhabited
by monstrous, supernatural creatures against whom our unlikely band of characters
struggle. “Do not be amazed at anything you see,” Sir Malcolm Murray tells his team as
they descend into the opium den in London’s East End that doubles as a crypt for
vampires. In consuming Penny Dreadful, then, a viewer is invited: to participate in the
literary detective work involved in recognizing the inter-textual references that echo
throughout the series; to enjoy the twenty-first century liberties in appropriating history
and literature that this television series takes; and, perhaps most importantly, to be
palpably aware that this show does not provide direct access to the Victorian “real”, but
rather, by means of relying on Victorian novels and central Victorian concepts, it relies
on signs of the past to shape its particularly fictional and at times anachronistic “take” on
the age of Victoria.
“Do you believe a soul can be taken over by another? That you can lose yourself
to something dark? … I believe in curses. I believe in demons. I believe in monsters,” so
speaks Vanessa Ives to a priest in Penny Dreadful, and in the process establishes the
foundation for this perversion of the Victorian heritage adaptation. Works of speculative
fiction “conjecture about matters that in the normal course of things could not be” (Gill
72) and present “modes of being that contrast with their audiences’ understanding of
ordinary reality” (73). Penny Dreadful features what Vanessa Ives describes as a “demimonde, a half-world between what we know and what we fear. A place in the shadows,
rarely seen but deeply felt. A place where people who are cursed are bound to live” (74).
Although set in 1891, fin de siècle London is established as an earthly hell in which our

central protagonists wrestle with the curses that bind them to the world of humans but
that leave them open to the torments of the realm of vampires, demons, and devils. In
this way, the horror offered by Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, emerges through the
shocking contrast established between the humdrum Victorian everyday (tenements, gas
lamps, factories, the building of Tower Bridge) and the terrifying “demi-monde” that the
series depicts, the brutal and explicit violence produced by the “monsters” who inhabit
that everyday (from the Vampire to Frankenstein’s creature), the literal horrors of spirit
possession, and the kinky sex acts that characters like Dorian Gray indulge in, in an effort
to feel something, anything. For example, Showtime pushes the boundaries of the
forbidden in the explicit sequence that it features between Gray and the prostitute Brona
Croft, whom he has hired to participate in a photo shoot that at first makes much of the
class difference that separates Aesthete from East End working girl. The only thing that
breaks through Gray’s ennui in this racy scene is his realization that she is dying of
consumption. Brona’s daily brushes with death are infinitely arousing for him, as he
licks the blood that she coughs up, totally unafraid of catching the dreaded disease. “I’ve
never fucked a dying creature before. Do you feel things more deeply, I wonder?” Gray
asks himself, only to be answered by Brona vomiting blood all over his face during a
consumptive coughing fit.

This explicit sexual sequence, whose explicit nature is

enhanced by the gross-out factor, seizes upon iconic images of the Victorian past
(prostitute, consumption, Aesthete), updates their intensity to align the show’s values
with contemporary viewers’ desensitization to violence and sexuality in film and
television, all the while suggesting that Dorian Gray himself is an unworldly being who is
plagued by the curse of immortality, doomed to live out his days searching for

experiences that will help him to feel. We are certainly in the presence of the spectacle of
speculative fiction.
Indeed, the violence offered by these “things that are beyond our world,” as
Vanessa Ives characterizes them, ruptures any false sense of security or confidence
suggested by nostalgic visions of the Victorian past and popular literature of the day.
Instead, the series invites viewers into a slightly recognizable nineteenth century that has
taken a very perverse twist. Colonialist explorer Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives
team up to find his daughter Mina Murray Harker who has been kidnapped and
contaminated by the Vampire (presumably from Stoker’s 1897 novel, one of the many
anachronisms that characterize the series). Dr. Victor Frankenstein, whose research into
reversing death has produced abominable creations that now walk the earth and plague
him on a daily basis, brutally murdering anything for which the doctor develops an
affection, is invited by Sir Murray to join them on their quest to “that place where science
and superstition walk hand in hand.” “With me you will behold terrible wonders,”
Murray promises the doctor, and the Victorian “real” that this show features in fashion
swiftly gives way to “matters that in the normal course of things could not be” (Gill 72),
which is typical of speculative fiction. American cowboy Ethan Chandler, showman
turned hired gun, also joins the group, his own curse of lycanthropy aligning him in
particular with Miss Ives, whose affinities with a gun and with wolves, for that matter,
are extremely useful to this group battling the forces of evil that inhabit the Victorian
everyday. In its evocation of the nineteenth-century past Penny Dreadful values fiction
rather than historical fact.

Penny Dreadful engages with the genre of speculative fiction right in its very
name and genre. Referring to the cheap printed installment fiction and boys’ weekly
periodicals that emerged in the 1870s and targeted a lower-middle and working-class
youthful audience, penny dreadfuls had their roots in an oral tradition and the chapbook
form. They emerged out of the “penny bloods” of the 1830s and 1840s, “Gothic, low-life,
and romantic serial fiction published by print entrepreneurs such as Edward Lloyd (181590) to attract the new urban working-class readership” (Springhall “Pernicious,” 330).
The descriptor “dreadful” was appended to this type of melodramatic and sensational
literature in the 1870s when it began to specialize in stories of the underworld, of Gothic
horror, of highwaymen, pirates, schoolboy adventurers, low-life criminals (331) and
exposed corruption in high places and crime in low places, featuring a contrast between
the rich and the poor, between the West End of London and its East End. Popular titles
of the late 1870s include the Gothic stories of Spring-Heeled Jack, or the Terror of
London and Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Streetand sensationalized
accounts of historical criminals like Turnpike Dick, Three-Fingered Jack, the Terror of
the Antilles. Dreadfuls were based on the traditions of the Newgate Calendar (chapbooks
about notorious criminals) and the Gothic novel that often featured bizarre, supernatural
figures like Varney the Vampire, and as such can be considered early examples of
speculative fiction.2
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful reflects self-consciously on its titular form and
content, and in its appropriation of Gothic and sensational stories to re-create the
Victorian present as a literal horror show, it falls quite nicely into the genre of speculative
fiction. The opening sequence of the first episode sets the tone for the series’ particularly

horrific re-invention of the nineteenth-century past. A working-class woman living in a
tenement is brutally ripped apart by an unseen but vicious entity, her organs strewn
haphazardly and blood splashed everywhere. Although visually reminiscent of Jack the
Ripper’s crime scenes, the violence and rage suggested by this murder signal the presence
of a supernatural creature rather than a real person, an “unnatural” entity that the show
goes on to identify as the American cowboy Ethan Chandler, who is cursed by the brutal
and horrifically primal instincts of the werewolf. “Mr Rymer missed the facts but he
caught the truth,” Penny Dreadful’s Van Helsing tells Victor Frankenstein, while
showing him the popular penny dreadful Varney the Vampire, a story serialized in 184547, that contains some of the iconic elements of the vampire story while centered around
a vampire who inspires pathos as opposed to horror from readers. Penny Dreadful makes
the horror that is typical of the penny dreadful a matter of entertainment, the gruesome
violence, monstrous figures, and aberrant sexual themes shocking viewers out of any
comforting view of the nineteenth-century past and replacing it with an entirely
fantastical re-creation of our predecessors who walk alongside supernatural beings.
At the structural level, the serialization of the show mimics the serialization of the
penny dreadfuls themselves, the prolongation of suspense over a number of instalments
or episodes. The principal storylines that span these episodes all give a particular Gothic
spin to turn-of-the-century London, England.

The story of the tormented Victor

Frankenstein and his creature as one of the founding myths of Gothic fiction, also offers
viewers some interesting insight into the science of medicine. Frankenstein’s perverse
creature functions as a larger structural metaphor for Penny Dreadful’s creation or even
“resurrection” of the “Victorians.” Frankenstein’s visual act of creation in the series

evokes its filmic precursors, from James Whales’s 1931 black and white feature
Frankenste into Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994),which establish
the signature elements that have since become key to the cinematic Frankenstein myth
(the laboratory, the body hauled up through a skylight during an electrical storm, and the
phrase “It’s alive!”), borrowed and adapted and even parodied in contemporary films and
television programmes. In turn, Showtime’s series is a cobbled together vision of the
nineteenth century, an assemblage of parts to make a Victorian whole, a whole that
features characters who remain a-part from the human society with which they crave so
deeply to connect.
Likewise, Vanessa Ives’s experiences with Spiritualism and spirit possession,
offer direct access to the principal antagonist on the show, the Devil, while also
highlighting the alternative discourses on religion in the nineteenth century. Such tropes
that are typical of the Female Gothic as women’s victimization, madness, transgressive
sexual desire, seduction and abuse (Kohlke and Gutleben 28), are invoked in Penny
Dreadful. Vanessa Ives embodies all of these tropes and offers them up as a spectacle of
abused Victorianism. What plagues her, though, is not the ennui of the day, but the spirit
of Amon-Ra, or more commonly known as the Devil himself. During the lengthy and
remarkably graphic spectacle of spirit possession at Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle’s soiree,
Vanessa is possessed by Amon-Ra, but speaks for Sir Malcolm’s missing daughter Mina
and dead son Peter, channelling their anxieties, resentment and even hatred. In the
process, Vanessa becomes a spectacle of lewdness – the rigid Victorian spinster gives
way to writhing contortionist as she wrestles in spirit with the Devil – and whose
complete abandonment to base, primal urges prompts her to “fuck” the first man whom

she meets on the street. Engaging tangentially with contemporary criticism on spirit
possession and female mediums in the nineteenth century,3 Penny Dreadful reinvents this
new historical and critical insight according to the demands of speculative fiction, this
sequence becoming more reminiscent of contemporary low-budget splatter flicks like The
8th Plague (2006) and horror films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) than of actual
opportunities available for women in the nineteenth century.
As a speculative text, Penny Dreadful presents its particularly Gothic “take” on
the nineteenth century, and continues its self-reflexive engagement with the penny
dreadful genre. Stoker’s signature vampire story interfaces with Sir Malcolm Murray’s
storyline about his kidnapped daughter Mina, and in this way British colonization and the
exploration of the Nile are seen through a Gothic lens. Contemporary society’s
fascination with sex and prostitution in the nineteenth century is addressed through the
character, Brona Croft, whose participation in a lewd photography session brings her into
contact with Dorian Gray and his curse of immortality, the intensity of their sexual
intercourse overshadowed by her approaching death – thanks to consumption. This
sequence reads more like the Victorians meet Fifty Shades of Grey, their BDSM sex acts
speaking to a contemporary fascination with explicit sex acts on screen rather than to the
alleged perversities enjoyed by the so-called “other” Victorians. Indeed, Showtime
employs Dorian Gray to introduce the spectacularization of sex acts by means of his
“loose” Aestheticism, his house becoming the site of homosexual and lesbian orgies and
the sado-masochistic encounter between Dorian and Vanessa Ives. In effect, Penny
Dreadful is like the Victorian resurrectionist in its creation of an entirely “new” and
fantastical vision of the nineteenth century, an assemblage of parts to make a whole, out

of the remnants of literature and contemporary popular culture, with a particular focus
given to the supernatural.
At first glance, its particularly Gothic re-deployment of the nineteenth century
aligns it with the genre of neo-Victorianism which typically searches out the period’s
“secrets and shameful mysteries, insisting obsessively on the lurid details of Victorian
life, reliving the period’s nightmares and traumas” (Kohlke and Gutleben 4). Typical
Gothic tropes of transgression (transgressive femininity, spirituality, sexuality) and
themes of deviance and aberration are reworked in the urban setting of London, from
Westminster and Pall Mall, to the East End and the Dockyards. Certainly great attention
to detail has gone into the evocation of the Victorian present in Showtime’s tantalizing
new series. London, in this way, is signalled by its gas lamps, opium dens, back
alleyways, and the pollution of its factories and warehouses. Penny Dreadful establishes
nineteenth-century London as a culture of extremes: Victorian gentleman Sir Malcolm is
contrasted with the working-class men on the docks, society women (Evelyn Poole and
Vanessa Ives) are contrasted with the prostitutes walking the streets (and the spectacle of
dying femininity epitomized by Brona Croft). Although viewers are confronted by
historical Victorian detail, all are exaggerated for often brutal effect, the violence,
supernaturalism, and perverse sexualities aligning the series more with speculative fiction
than with neo-Victorianism. Works of speculative fiction feature “events that are
impossible under the physical laws and constraints of our ordinary world” (Gill 72), and
so the uncanny creatures that walk between the “science and superstition” that Penny
Dreadful features fit right into this genre. “Speculative fiction envisions a systematically
different world in which not only events are different, but causes operate by logics other

than normal ones” (Gill 73). What in fact aligns Penny Dreadful with speculative fiction
more so than neo-Victorianism, then, is its particular interpretation of these “secrets,”
“mysteries,” and “traumas” of the Victorian past as monsters and supernatural entities.
As creator John Logan comments: his show “revisit[s] classic literary creations we’ve all
known and loved (and had nightmares about)” (Rice 54). One of the main nineteenthcentury developments in the Gothic was a shift from external forms of threat to the
internalization of evil. All of the characters in this neo-Victorian speculative series
demonstrate this and more. Vanessa Ives and Ethan Chandler, for example, possess an
internal evil that corrupts from the inside out, Ives in the form of the Devil, and Chandler
in the form of his internal wolf whose brutal violence he is at pains to contain.
The question thus becomes – what is the purpose of Penny Dreadful’s return to
and appropriation of the nineteenth century? Why the nineteenth century, specifically?
For critics Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn to be considered neo-Victorian, texts
“must in some respects be self-consciously engaged with the act of (re)interpretation,
(re)discovery and (re)vision concerning the Victorians” (4, their emphasis).4


approaches are inherently self-conscious, they continue, and are motivated by, among
others: a tendency to look to the past to see current problems (Heilmann and Llewellyn
10-11); an aesthetic need to write “coloured and metaphorical language” (18) and in so
doing keep past literatures alive; a responsibility to unveil historical traumas by means of
the act of storytelling and (self)narration (28); a need to reinterpret Victorian imperialism
from the perspective of the colonial subject and writers. As a speculative text, Penny
Dreadful falls outside these parameters in part because it does not engage critically or
self-reflexively with the historical past and is not interested in offering an “authentic”

vision of the past typical of the heritage film or in viewing the nineteenth century from
another critical lens in an effort to “set the record” straight. Penny Dreadful allows
viewers to delight in the “look” of its Victorian setting, but no values are promoted as the
status quo. This is not heritage television. Conventional ideas about gender, class, and
race are not reinforced; quite the opposite. Transgression as a trope is reinforced time and
again. The parameters of what is acceptable television are not policed, something that is
further allowed thanks to the series’ “R” rating. Penny Dreadful employs the supernatural
specifically to allow characters to behave in ways completely “other” to the traditionally
prim and proper Victorians. The public/private divide of traditionally conservative
Victorian gender norms is blown away by the central roles held by women, not to
mention by the alternative sexualities that the show spends much time celebrating and
even spectacularizing. Conventional class boundaries are transgressed as easily as by
donning a gentleman’s suit (as when Victor Frankenstein goes to visit Sir Malcolm at his
“club” in Pall Mall). Although ostensibly serving as Sir Malcolm’s manservant, Sembene
oversees the entire operation, stepping in to offer direction and a firm hand to steel Sir
Malcolm against his daughter’s inherent evil. In effect, rather than establishing a
“realistic” Victorian period, Penny Dreadful fictionalizes history, building an authentic
seeming nineteenth-century setting for its fantastical characters to “live” and “breathe” in
again. It is not a series that is interested in making sense of the Victorian past per se, but
rather in imaginatively re-creating it, they re-embody it as a cultural and temporal period
that speaks more about our current time than theirs.5
Interestingly, our fascination with the nineteenth century is similar indeed to the
Victorian tendency towards revivalism, the adaptation of the old for new purposes. With

this in mind, some of our modern-day preoccupations – such as our interests in issues of
sexuality and gender, self-fashioning and identity politics, and imperialism – are
projected onto the Victorians, and onto Penny Dreadful in particular. Given the series’
emphasis on non-normative and alternative sexualities, the Victorian past of Penny
Dreadful seems influenced by the historiography of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with
Stephen Marcus and Ronald Pearsall’s works, on the double lives of the “other
Victorians.” But perhaps even more to the point, the extreme violence and perversity that
characterize the series may not be so telling of Victorian values but rather our own
perverse proclivities, our “appetites glutted by graphic gore and bodily violations
depicted on television and cinema screens” (Kohlke and Gutleben 27-8).


labyrinthine city of London becomes a site of alienation, horror and terror, itself a
monstrous creature that kills and shelters killers. In his theorizations about speculative
fiction, R. B. Gill suggests that penny dreadful provided Victorians with “sensational
plots and a good read, but not much by way of serious examination of their world. The
value of the choice (other than the publisher’s choice to make money) is that the pleasure
of reading is worth more than the time lost in doing so” (80). Dreadfuls, as examples of
speculative fiction, thus offered a temporary escape from the Victorian present through
reading. This is exactly one of the many things that Showtime’s series offers and which
distinguishes it from the broader category of neo-Victorianism. Penny Dreadful offers
viewers an escape from the contemporary into the pleasures offered by the visualization
of a Victorian past as the setting for its fantastical plot. While Penny Dreadful does
attempt to move away from the homogeneous representation of the nineteenth century
typical of period pieces and heritage films by depicting the large immigrant population in

London and the diverse racial make-up of the city, its historical authenticity is not the
objective. The opium dens that Showtime’s series features admit the discourse of the
racial other, and there is a nod, albeit casual, through the racial stereotype of the opium
den owner, to the significant Chinese population in London’s East End at the turn of the
century. But Showtime provides in tele-visual form what the Victorian penny dreadful
provided for its young readers: chills and thrills and a temporary escape from the stresses
of the present. It also expands the audience of the 19th-century penny dreadful,
traditionally marketed at boys and young men, to an exclusively adult audience through
its at times explicit and brutal subject matter, and to female viewers because of its
fascinating main protagonists, Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green), its use of the
prostitute character Brona Croft (played by Billie Piper), and through the casting of Josh
Hartnett (as Ethan Chandler) and Reeve Carney (as Dorian Gray). But in no way does
the show pretend to be interested in providing viewers with an “accurate” representation
of the Victorian past. Fin de siècle London becomes a spectacle of perversions in which
both Victorian character and contemporary viewer can take delight and achieve a
temporary escape from the concerns of the everyday.
John Logan’s Penny Dreadful celebrates London’s history of theatricality,
musicality, and spectacle, which was at its zenith in the late nineteenth century. The
series’ theatre, the Grand Guignol, the site of “mayhem and malice,” becomes a perfect
metaphor for the neo-Victorian speculative approach that this show takes, for the
“distorted freak-show” fictional characters that Penny Dreadful shows walking the streets
of 1891 London. The players, “creatures of perpetual resurrection” as Frankenstein’s
creature describes them, die gruesomely and come back night after night. Referring to the

Parisian theatre by the same name and by extension to its speciality in naturalistic horror
shows, the theatre around which so much of the plot centers in Penny Dreadful calls
explicit attention to the ideas of storytelling and performance, death and rebirth, as well
as to the graphic, amoral entertainment that the theatre and the entire series develop.
Traditional penny dreadfuls offered melodrama and Gothicism – themes that the theatre
and the entire series develop – and in turn Penny Dreadful offers this wonderful mixture
up for contemporary viewers to satisfy and reflect on the contemporary need for the
salacious. If we are to regard the nineteenth century as “the contemporary self’s uncanny
Doppelganger, exploring the uncertain limits between what is vanished (dead) and
surviving (still living)” (Dohlke and Gutleben 4), Showtime’s new horror drama
showcases contemporary preoccupations projected onto the past, making of them an
entertaining and even salacious spectacle. Patrick Dunae describes the penny dreadful as
“an endangered species” (149) as of 1900.

As Showtime’s series demonstrates so

effectively, this in fact is a new species that is alive and thriving, thriving and, perhaps
even more to the point, parasitically subsisting on the literary and popular culture remains
of the nineteenth century. If regarded as an “authentic” vision of the nineteenth century,
this neo-Victorian example of speculative fiction would certainly be considered
“dreadful.” That is simply not the point. The spectacle of “dreadful” is, and that is how
this show is an example of neo-Victorian speculative fiction.


The British-American horror drama television series Penny Dreadful is a co-production with Showtime
and Sky. It is created, written, and executive produced by 3-time Oscar nominee John Logan, and
executive produced by Logan’s Desert Wolf Productions, along with Oscar Winner Sam Mendes and Pippa

Harris, both of Neal Street Productions. For the purposes of this paper I will be focusing on the first season
of Penny Dreadful.

Political economist and champion of middle-class values, Harriet Martineau dismissed penny dreadfuls as
a genre. She wrote contemptuously of a cheap literature of “’animal passion and defiant lawlessness.
Lives of bad people, everything about banditii everywhere, love stories from any language, scenes of
theatrical life, trials of celebrated malefactors, love, crime, madness, suicide, wherever to be got in print,
are powerful in preparing the young for convict life” (Springhall “Pernicious,” 329). As John Springhall’s
and Patrick Dunae’s research into this genre of literature attests, penny dreadfuls highlighted an anxiety
over the reading done by Victorian youth. A low-grade moral panic ensued among the upper- and middleclasses about the allegedly nefarious influence that such “low” reading was having on England’s youth.
The middle classes assumed that wider literacy led to the corruption of literature and eventually to the
criminalization of the young (Springhall “Pernicious,” 345). Juvenile delinquency was linked to this type
of reading, much as American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham would eventually link juvenile delinquency
with comics and cartoons in the 1950s, in his inflammatory text Seduction of the Innocent (1954). In
February 1886 Punch continued its diatribe against the dreadfuls: “’It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the
nauseous quality of the trash that is prepared [for the young] in the shape of penny numbers’” (Dunae 138).
In spite of these spurious claims, Springhall argues, penny dreadfuls were “low-life stories [that] were
written for the people, but they were not of or by the people” (Springhall “Brett,” 246). Such popular
literature was condemned by middle-class journalists as leading to juvenile delinquency, when in reality
many of the dreadful titles were penned by middle- or upper-middle class writers. Fascinatingly, then,
almost 150 years later, Showtime is reclaiming this descriptor “dreadful” by choosing as its focus
characters taken from canonical literature and stock literary archetypes to populate its highly fantastical
approach to the nineteenth century. Penny Dreadful also reorients itself in terms of its audience. While
Victorian penny dreadfuls were aimed at juvenile audiences, this show is not suitable for young viewing
audiences, as its “R” rating indicates.

For a range of approaches on this topic of women and spirit possession, see Logie Barrow, Mary Farrell
Bednarowski, Ann Braude, and Janet Oppenheim’s works. Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow’s collection
of essays The Occult in America: New Historical Perspectives is also very useful.

Undoubtedly works of neo-Victorian fiction encourage authors, readers, and critics “to confront the
problem of historical recollection” (Mitchell 3) with the question of how to package the Victorian period
for contemporary readers, and for what purpose. How to make history accessible? Is it by a focus on
superficial detail, references to clothing, furniture, décor that produce “the past in terms of its objects, as a
series of clichés” without engaging its complexities as a unique historical moment (Mitchell 3)? Is its
principal function “revisionist” (Kleinecke-Bates 1), in other words to reclaim lost voices and histories left
out of the record? Kate Mitchell argues that neo-Victorian fiction can lay claim to the past in contrast to
Linda Hutcheon’s assertion in A Poetics of Postmodernism (1988) that historiographic metafiction
problematizes any such representation of the past and in so doing highlights the difficulty of even attaining
historical knowledge (Mitchell 25). Critics of neo-Victorianism generally fall into these two camps –
literature as revisionist or as metatextual – about the function and purpose of their explorations of the
nineteenth century. See work by Elizabeth Ho, Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn, Marie-Luise Kohlke
and Christian Gutleben, and the exciting new work that is emerging in the online journal, Neo-Victorian

This is not a new approach to the nineteenth century. The age of Victoria has frequently functioned as a
comparative base for future generations. Ezra Pound and the modernists, for example, defined “the new”
against the “old” Victorians, dismissing the nineteenth century “as a rather blurry, messy sort of a period, a

rather sentimentalistic, mannerish sort of a period” (Pound Pavannes, (106). Mid-twentieth-century
representations of the age of Victoria suggested that historians had arrived at a time where they could grasp
and conceptualize the Victorians anew. With the rise of discourses of feminism, semiotics, psychoanalysis,
and materialism, new approaches diversified readings of the Victorian period, featuring looks at women,
the working and criminal classes and non-Europeans (Mitchell 45). Steven Marcus and Michel Foucault
also diversified how people viewed the Victorians, and chose to reorient their focus to sexuality and its
repression in the nineteenth century. For neo-conservatives like Margaret Thatcher and Gertrude
Himmelfarb, Victorian values were celebrated to distract the English people from the malaise of the midtwentieth century. Thatcher’s celebration of Victorian values in this way was a rhetorical ploy that
suggested that she was trying to protect tradition when in fact she was encouraging change, transformation
and the new (Mitchell 51).

Works Cited
Barrow, Logie. Independent Spirits: Spiritualism and English Plebeians, 1850-1910.
London: Routledge, 1986. Print.
Bednarowki, Mary Farrell. “Women in Occult America.” The Occult in America: New
Historical Perspectives. Eds. Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow. Urbana: U of
Illinois P, 1983. 177-95. Print.
Braude, Ann. Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century
America. Boston: Beacon P, 1989. Print.
Davies, Helen. Gender and Ventriloquism in Victorian and Neo-Victorian Fiction,
Passionate Puppets. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.
Dunae, Patrick A. “Penny Dreadfuls: Late Nineteenth-Century Boys’ Literature and
Crime.” Victorian Studies 22.2 (Winter 1979): 133-150. Print.
Gill, R. B. “The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction.” Mosaic
46.2 (June 2013): 71-85. Print.
Heilmann, Ann and Mark Llewellyn. Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the TwentyFirst Century. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
Ho, Elizabeth. Neo-Victorianism and the Memory of Empire. London: Continuum, 2012.
Iadonisi, Richard, ed. Graphic History: Essays on Graphic Novels and/as History.
Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. Print.
Kleinecke-Bates, Iris. Victorians on Screen: The Nineteenth Century on British
Television, 1994-2005. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Kohlke, Marie-Luise and Christian Gutleben, eds. Neo-Victorian Gothic: Horror,
Violence and Degeneration in the Re-Imagined Nineteenth Century. Amsterdam:
Rodopi, 2012. Print.
Mitchell, Kate. History and Cultural Memory in Neo-Victorian Fiction. Houndmills,
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
Oppenheim, Janet. The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England,
1850-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985. Print.

Penny Dreadful. Dir. John Logan. Perf. Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton. 2014.
Pound, Ezra. Pavannes and Divisions. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1918. Print.
Rice, Lynette. Entertainment Weekly 9 May 2014: 54-55. Print.
Robinson, Alan. Narrating the Past: Historiography, Memory and the Contemporary
Novel. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
Springhall, John. “’A Life Story for the People’? Edwin J. Brett and the London ‘LowLife’ Penny Dreadfuls of the 1860s.” Victorian Studies 33.2 (Winter 1990): 223246. Print.
---. “’Pernicious Reading’? ‘The Penny Dreadful’ as Scapegoat for Late-Victorian
Juvenile Crime.” Victorian Periodicals Review 27.4 (Winter 1994): 326-349.

সুভািষণী-র ‘কথা’
রাখী িম


ায় দু’দশক আেগ ১৮৭৪-৭৫ সােল ‘ব দশন’ পি কায় বি মচ

চে াপাধ ায় িলেখিছেলন এক দৃি হীন ফুলওয়ািলর কািহিন—‘রজনী’। রজনী অ । বিহজগৎ
তার কােছ অন

রজনীময়। ‘রজনী’ উপন ােসর

বেলিছেলন১, য সম

‘মানিসক ও নিতক ত

যুবতীর সাহােয িবেশষ

থম সং রেণর ‘িব াপন’ অংেশ বি ম
িতপাদন করা এই

ে র উে শ ’ তা ‘অ

তা লাভ’ করেত পারেব বেলই, ‘ওই প িভি র উপর রজনী

িনমাণ’ করা িগেয়েছ। হঠাৎ পড়েল, বি মেক ভুল বুঝেত হয়, মেন হয়

সামািজক নিতকতার ত

িতপাদেনর জন িতিন বুিঝ হণ করেলন রজনীর দৃি হীনতােক।

িনছক উপন ােসর কৗশল িনমােণর কৗতূহেল িতিনও বুিঝ অ

হেয় রইেলন রজনীর

আসেল, এখােন নিতক শে র অথ সামািজক নীিতিন া নয়। মন
এখােন ‘ নিতকতা’। আর সই ‘ নিতকতা’-র ল
ধু সৃি


স ত জিটল যুি


হল, বাহ প ব তীত অ দৃি র মধ িদেয়

পেলাক িনমাণ। দু হ সই কাজিট আ য নপুেণ গেড় তুেলিছেলন বি ম। দু হ
ি য়ায় নয় বরং দুঃসাধ দৃি হীনতার অনুভবেন। দু হ দৃি হীেনর মানসদৃি র আদ

যুি পটিটেক িনেজর মেধ ধারণ করেত পারায়।
আ কথেন রজনী বেলেছ২, ‘ তামােদর জীবন দৃি ময়—আমার জীবন অ কার—দুঃখ
এই, আিম ইহা অ কার বিলয়া জািন না। আমার এ

নয়েন তাই আেলা!’ তাই বসু রার

উে েশ স বেল৩, ‘বািহেরর চ ু িনমীিলত থােক থাকুক মা! আমার

দেয়র মেধ চ ু

ফুটাইয়া দ, আিম একবার অ েরর িভতর অ র লুকাইয়া, মেনর সােধ

প দেখ, নারীজ

সাথক কির।’

দেয়র মেধ চ ুদােনর ওই কাজিট কেরিছেলন বি ম। সূ ত দখেত
পিচ ার সে মেনর স েকর দুগম িদকিটেক। দৃি সীমােক অিত ম কের শ ,

শ আর িবেশষত ফুলওয়ািলর কােছ গে র পিরচেয় অ রেলােক
পধ ান দখেত চেয়িছেলন তােক।

েম গেড় উেঠেছ য

িতব কতার ধারণািটেক ফুৎকাের উিড়েয় িদেয় বি ম

তির কেরিছেলন মন ে র এক ‘ নিতক’ গ ।
১২৯৯ এ রবী নাথ িলখেলন ‘সুভা’৪, এক মূক মেয়র গ । আদ
‘সুভা’ একিট
িন পায়

িতব ী মেয়র কািহিন। তার িন পায়

আর ব নার গ


আর ব নার কািহিন। িক


িক িলখেবন রবী নাথ? বি েমর হােত তির হেয়িছল দৃি হীেনর

পজগৎ। অন িদেক রবী নাথ সৃি
উিনশ শতেকর

আমরা জেনিছ

করেলন মৗনে র শ িচ ময় ব মাি ক ভাষাজগৎ।

াপেট দাঁিড়েয় তাঁর

সই ‘ দখা’ আ য কের

দয় এমনিক এই

সুেকিশনী আর সুহািসনী—বড় দুই মেয়র সে
রেখিছেলন, সুভািষণী। িক

নাম িমিলেয় বাণীক

সুভাষণ তা দূেরর কথা, তখন ক জানত, মেয়িট মূক হেব।

তােকই সকেল সংে েপ সুভা ডােক। সুভার মা তাঁর এই স ানেক
‘ িট

প’। মেন কেরন, ‘গেভর কল ’। স য িবধাতার ‘অিভশাপ

একথাই স

মেয়র নাম

েনেছ িচরিদন। সইজন ই এক তট

দেখন িনেজর

প’ জে েছ এই ঘের,

সেচতনতায় সকেলর থেক অণু ণ

িনেজর অি ে র আড়াল রচনাই যন হেয় উেঠেছ তার সব েণর চ া। মূক মেয়িটর অ ের
তার অি

িনেয় এই ি ধা, অ ি , সংশয় আর সংেকাচেক সুচা ভােব ঘের আর বাইের

সংসারই তা গেড় িদেয়েছ ব িদন ধের। কারণ সংসােরর মেনর ল ণেরখার একিদেক থােক
তথাকিথত ‘ াভািবক’রা, যার উে ািদেক উ ৃ
িতব ী। পৃিথবীর সে

যাগােযােগ পেদ পেদ যােদর বাধা,

কত রকেমর না-পারা, না বাঝা।
না পারােকই কেরেছ িচি ত।
িদেয়েছ দুমেড়। আর

সব। যারা অ াভািবক,

চিলত পিরচেয় যারা

িতব কতা। পেদ পেদ কত

িট, কল , অিভশাপ—দ রমেতা ব াখ ায় চারপাশ ওই যত
মাগত সই িচি তকরেণ ধীের ধীের তােদর অি

িতব কতার সই

গাঢ় শাক ি


ণ হেয় উেঠেছ উিনশ শতেক একিট

মেয়র িবেয় না হেত পারার ব থতায়। িববাহ নামক ব ব ার মাপকািঠেত িকছুেতই পার পায়িন
য মেয়, িনরিতশয় সই ব

িণত ঘেরর মানুেষর শাকই দুবহ কেরেছ সুভার িদনরাত।

গে র গাড়ায় রবী নাথ িদেলন সুভার বাবা-মার ওই বাবা মেয়িটর খবর। িক
সুভার সে পিরচয় কিরেয় িদেত িগেয় রবী নাথ পাঠকেক বলেলন একটা অন কথা। ‘সুভার
কথা িছল না, িক

তাহার সুদীঘপ বিবিশ

‘ও াধর ভােবর আভাসমা

বেড়া বেড়া দুিট কােলা চাখ িছল’ এবং তার

কিচ িকশলেয়র মেতা’ কঁেপ উঠত। আমরা ভািব, কী কা ? কথা

বলেত পারার স ূরক িহেসেব রবী নাথ রাখেলন নািক এ দুিটেক? দুেটা চাখ আর ও াধের
িবধৃত হেত পাের য ভাব, স িক আেদৗ কথা বলেত পারার সমতুল হেত পাের কখনও?
রবী নাথ ব াখ া করেলন িবষয়িটেক। ‘কথায় আমরা য ভাব

কাশ কির সটা আমািদগেক

অেনকটা িনেজর চ ায় গিড়য়া লইেত হয়।’ ‘কতকটা তজমা করার মেতা’। কথার মধ িদেয়
ওই ভাব কাশ ‘সকল সমেয় িঠক হয় না’। ‘ মতার অভােব অেনক সমেয় ভুলও হয়।’ িক
কােলা চাখেক িকছু ‘তজমা’ করেত হয় না। ‘মন আপিন তাহার ওপর ছায়া ফেল।’ অিত
পুরাতন আমােদর ভািষক ঐিতেহ র বাইের রবী নাথ জ

িদেলন এক অন তর ভাষার

স ানেক। আর তােক দখেত পারার সই আ য সূ তায় রবী নাথ আেরা একবার অিভভূত
কের দন আমােদর।
একিট কািহিনর সে অ লীন সূে কথাকার বলেত চাইেলন, ব ি মানুেষর কথার যঅংশিট তার মেনর মেধ সং
তির হয়

তঃ ূতভােব। িক


হেয় থােক, সই ভাব বা কথনপূব অব ািট তার অ েলােক
সামািজকভােব যখন িনেজেক

কাশ করেত চায় তার

অ েলাক? বাধ ত তখন তােক আয়

করেত হয় বিহিবে র শ ব

িবিধিনিদ তােকই। ভাষার ছাঁচিটেত ঢেল িদেত হয় িনেজর একা

েণই রবী নাথ রাখেলন ভাষা সং া

আর ব

তাঁর িবেশষ

‘সািহত সৃি ’

ভাবিটেক। আর এই

িট। মেনর মেধ অব

কথােক িচরিদন আমরা জেনিছ অিভ াথক। িক
কাশ করবার

আর বাক বে র

িনেজর মেনর ভাবিটেক অিবকল

মতা িক সিত ই রেয়েছ সকেলর?
পের বেলিছেলন রবী নাথ৫, যিদ


কিব’ হতাম তাহেল


েত েকই আমরা


েত েকই আপনার

দয়েক এমন কিরয়া মূিতমান’ করেত

পারতাম যােত একটা ‘অপূবতা’

দখা িদত। ল

করব, কিব নয় রবী নাথ বলেলন

‘অসাধারণ কিব’র কথা। একমা

সে ে ই িনেজর অ র

মতায় এবং ভাষার ওপর তাঁর সুদ

ভাবেক যথাযথভােব জানবার

অিধকাের িতিন সহেজই সবজেনর কােছ তাঁর ভাবেক

ভাষায় কের তুলেত পােরন ‘মূিতমান’। িক

সকেলর তা স ‘ মতা’ নই। সকথা মেন

কিরেয় িদেয় রবী নাথ বলেলন, ‘আমরা ভাঙােচারা কিরয়া কথা বিল, আমরা িনেজেক িঠকমত
জািনই না— যটােক আমরা সত বিলয়া
হয়েতা দেশর মেতর অভ

চার কির, সটা হয়েতা

কৃিতগত সত নেহ, তাহা

আবৃি মা ...।’ খয়াল করব, এই কারেণই রবী নাথ মেনর

ভাবিটেক িদেয়েছন মূল-এর

। আর ভাষােক রেখেছন ‘তজমা’র সরহে । সইজন ই

বেলেছন ভাব- ক কথায় পিরণত করার ‘ মতার অভােব’ অেনক সময় ‘িঠক হয় না’ এমনিক
‘ভুল’ও হয়। তাহেল? কথা বলেত িগেয়ই মানুষ সের আেস তার

দেয়র ভাবিট থেক। কথা

বলেত চেয়ই এমনিক সের আেস তার ‘ কৃিতগত সত ’ থেকও। িক

‘কােলা চাখ’ আর

ও াধেরর ভাষা তা চ ীকৃত নয়। মন আপিনই তার ওপর ‘ছায়া’ ফেল িনেজেক
অিবকল। মেনর ভাব

তঃ ূতভােব ফুেট ওেঠ মুেখর ভাব-এ। ল

িতব কতােকই রবী নাথ দখেলন তার আ

কাশ কের

করবার, সুভার

কাশ িহেসেব। সুভার মুেখর ‘ভাব’ য

সাধারণ কথা-র চেয় আেরা বিশ সত রবী নাথ বলেত চাইেলন সই কথাখানা।
সুভার এই িবেশষ

কাশেক রবী নাথ বলেলন ‘ভাষা’। দখব, সম

সুভােক উপিমত করেলন একিট িনিদ

উপমােন। িন ুপ


রবী নাথ

কৃিত আর িন


রবী নাথ দখেলন িমিলেয়। বলেলন, ‘মুেখর ভাব ব’ যার ‘অন
‘ চােখর ভাষা’ ‘অেনকটা

আকােশর মেতা’। বলেলন, ‘ কৃিত যন তাহার ভাষার অভাব

পূরণ’ কের দয়। ‘ যন তাহার হইয়া কথা কয়’। কারণ


কান ভাষা’ নই তার

কৃিতর ভাষাও য ‘ বাবার ভাষা’।

কৃিত কমন কের কথা বেল আর কী কথাই বা বেল স?

‘ াবণস া’
কৃিতর। কথা হল ‘সু


বেলিছেলন রবী নাথ৬, কথা িজিনসটা মানুেষর আর গানটা

’ আর ‘ েয়াজেনর ারা সীমাব ’। বলা বা ল এখােন ‘গান’ এর

অথ হল যা বাচ াতীত, ‘অিনবচনীয়’। কথা রেয়েছ সংসােরর

াত িহকতার সংকীণতায় বি

হেয়। িক

‘জেলর কে ােল, বেনর মমের, বসে র উ ােস, শরেতর আেলােক িবশাল

কৃিতর যা-িকছু কথা স তা
বলা কথা। তাই

কথার নয়’। স তা ‘আভােস, ইি েত, ছিবেত, গােন’

কৃিত যখন কথা বেল স মানুেষর মুেখর কথােক ‘িনর ’ কের জািগেয়

ােণর ‘অিনবচনীয়’ ক। ভাষার মেধ , ওই

েয়াজেনর সংসাের আমরা য িনবািসত

হেয় আিছ সৗ য থেক, বাচ াতীত সই খবরটাই দয় আমােদর। সইজন ই কথার সে
‘গান’ যু

হেল কথা িনেজর অথেক ছািড়েয় ব া

ভেঙ তােক কের

হেয় যায়। মানুেষর সুখদুঃেখর ছাট গি

তােল ‘আকােশর িজিনস’। ‘জগেতর িবরাট অব ে র সে যু

হেয়’ লাভ

কের ‘একিট বৃহৎ অপ পতা’।
আভােস, ইি েত
সইজন ই বুিঝ ‘বৃহৎ

কৃিতর কােছ

সই ভাষাতীত ভাষােকই লাভ কেরিছল সুভা।

কৃিতর’ মেতা সুভার মেধ ও িছল ‘িবজন মহ ’। ‘ াবণস া’

বলা কথা েলােক আমরা

ায় অিবকল খুঁেজ পােবা ‘সুভা’ গে ও।

কৃিতর সে


সুভার এই

ভািষক স কেক গে রবী নাথ দখােলন দুিট মা ায়।
মধ াে

মািঝরা জেলরা খেত যত, গৃহ রা ঘুেমাত, খয়া নৗকা ব , পািখরাও ডােক

না তখন—জগেতর সম কাজকম যন হঠাৎ থেম িগেয় ধারণ করত এক ‘িবজনমূিত’। তখন
‘একিট বাবা

কৃিত এবং একিট বাবা মেয় মুখামুিখ’ বেস থাকত ‘চুপ’ কের।

‘নদীর কল িন, লােকর কালাহল, মািঝর গান, পািখর ডাক, ত র মমর’ সম
িমেশ সমুে র ঢউেয়র মেতা আছেড় পড়ত সুভার ‘িচরিন
এেস। রবী নাথ বলেলন

দয় উপকূেলর’ কাছিটেত

কৃিতর ‘কথা বলা’ সুভার ‘কথা বলার’ চেয় আলাদা নয়। আভােস,

ইি েত সও ‘বেড়া বেড়া চ ুপ বিবিশ ’ সুভার ভাষারই ‘িব ব াপী িব ার’। তৃণভূিম থেক

েলাক পয

কবল ‘ইি ত,ভি , সংগীত,

ন এবং দীঘিন াস’। দখব ‘ াবণস া’য়

কৃিতর ‘গান’ ক বাঝােত চেয় রবী নাথ উে খ কেরিছেলন িনসেগরই যাবতীয়

সই বৃহ র সংগীেতর উপমায় ‘সুভা’ গে



হল ‘মািঝর গান’ আর ‘মানুেষর

কালাহল’ও। মািঝর গান য অ েয়াজেনর গান। অতল পারাবাের তার

তঃ ূ্ত


কাশ। আর িবরাট জগেতর মাঝখােন ‘মানুেষর কালাহল’ হল বহমান িনর র মানবজীবন।

করব গ কােরর সূ

অিভ ায়েক। ‘ াবণস া’-য় দেখিছলাম, ভাষার সংসার মানুষেক

েয়াজেন বঁেধেছ বেলই স


মাগত িব ৃত হেয়েছ সৗ েযর ধারণা থেক। ল

তমনটা ঘটেছ না। বরং

থামেতা ভাষার সংসাের

নই বেলই

নিমি কতার মেধ ও স দেখ িনেত পারেছ সু রেক। মানবজীবেন যা বাচ াতীত আর
কৃিতেত যা অিনবচনীয় তােক স িমিলেয় িনেত পারেছ অনায়ােস। তাই সুভার মৗনে
রবী নাথ

দখেলন এক িবেশষ নীরব েক। দখেলন মানবজীবেনর এক দুলভ াত েক।


কৃিতর সে সুভােক িমিলেয় কথক আঁকেলন আেরকটা ছিব। বেড়া হেত হেত একটা
সময় সুভা টর পায় যন কান নতুন ‘ চতনাশি েত’ স হেয় উঠেছ ‘পিরপূণ’। যন িনেজই
অনুভব করেত পারেছ িনেজেক। িনেজেক দখেছ, ভাবেছ,
িকছুেতই। তখন গভীর পূিণমারাে

করেছ িক

সদু র পায় না

এক-একিদন শাবার ঘেরর দরজা ঠেল মুখ বািড়েয় স

তািকেয় দেখ বাইের। কী দেখ সুভা? দেখ ‘পূিণমা কৃিতও সুভার মেতা একািকনী সু
জগেতর’ ওপর জেগ থেক ‘ যৗবেনর রহেস পুলেক িবষােদ অসীম িনজনতার’ এেকবাের
সীমা অিত ম কের ‘থমথম’ করেছ, ‘একিট কথা কিহেত পািরেতেছ না’। ছিবটা পুনরাবৃ
করেলন রবী নাথ। ‘এই িন

ব াকুল



একিট িন

ধু মেনর ভাব নয় িনেজর শরীেরর ভাবিটেকও সুভা

কৃিতরই চালিচে । িক

গ িশে

এইটুকু ভাবিব ার কেরই িনি
ধু চতনা,

পময় হেয় উঠেত দেখেছ

রবী নােথর গহন কা েকৗশল িক শ

ধু উপলি


গড়েত গড়েতই রবী নাথ িক একথাই বেল
ধু শরীরই নয় বরং পৃিথবীর সম

ভাষােকই আসেল িশেখ িনেত হয় কথােক ‘িনর ’ কেরই। িব

কৃিতেক দখাও বেট আর আ

কৃিতেকও। দুবার

কৃিত আর সুভােক মুেখামুিখ রেখ

কােশ স বত তার অ র

জীবেন সুভাও টর পত না তার

িতব কতা। গায়ােলর দুেটা গাভী ‘ভাষার অেপ া সহেজ’ বুঝত সুভার
অেপ া ভােলা’ বুঝেত পারত তােদর

দয়েক। ‘মানুেষর

িত সুভার আদর, ভৎসনা আর িমনিতেক। কান এক

অনুমানশি ’ ত বুেঝ ফলত সুভার ‘মমেবদনা’। ‘িনবাক ব াকুলতার’ সে

িদত ‘সাধ মেতা’। ভাষার এক াে
আধখানা যিদ

কৃিত আর মানুেষর

আিব ারেক।

গভীরতর সই আ


থােক ব া আর অন াে

কাশ করেত পারার দ তা হয় তেব বািক আধখানা িনভর কের

অন তম শত িহেসেব এবার রবী নাথ যু
থেকই সৃি


‘সা না’ও

াতা। পিরপূণ ভাষার ধারণায়

মতার ওপেরও। আর সই কথািট মেন রাখেল দখব, ভাষােক


আ য

কৃিতর মেধ তখন

ওই আয়নার বাক িতমায় রবী নাথ আসেল িনেদশ করেত চাইেলন
সই অিভ স ারই আ


হেব? এই অনুভূিতলাভ, এই উপলি , এই চতনার মেধ

নবজ লাভ এ িক একা সুভার? সুভার গ
িনেলন না য,

ব াকুল বািলকা

াতার হণ

হণ করেত পারার

দয়েক। ব ার



দয়ই আিব ার কের নয় কথার ভতর ওই ‘গান’ ক। িনছক কথার ভতর
কের িনেত পাের এমনিক তার অ

কৃিতেকও। সইসূে ই এই গে


গাঁসাইেদর বািড়র এই ‘অকমণ ’ ছােটা ছেলটা য কােজকেম সংসােরর উ িতেত
লাগেব এমন আশা ত াগ কেরিছেলন তার বাপ-মা। িক

‘িনঃস ক লােকেদর’ কােজকেম

তাপেক পাওয়া যত এেকবাের হােতর কােছ। সই


তােপর সে সুভার

‘িঠক িক প স ক’ িছল রবী নাথ বলেলন, ‘তাহা িনণয় করা কিঠন, কারণ স ভাষািবিশ
জীব; সুতরাং উভেয়র মেধ সমভাষা িছল না।’ রবী নােথর এই দুিট কথার মেধ ই রেয়েছ
ছল। খয়াল করব,

তাপেক ‘অকমণ ’ কের গেড় তুেলই রবী নাথ আসেল সুভার মেতা

তােকও রাখেলন ‘ েয়াজেনর সংসােরর’ বাইের। আর সইজন ই সুভার সে

তার স ক

‘িনণয়’ করাটাও তত কিঠন হেয় রইল না আর।

ধান শখ িছপ ফেল মাছ ধরা। এই উপলে

হত। য কােজই থাক একটা স ী পেল
স ীই সবােপ া


সুভার সে তার

ায়ই দখা

তাপ থােক ভােলা। আর ‘মাছ ধরার সময় বাক হীন

তাপ সুভার মযাদা’ বুঝত। সইকারেণই সুভােক বািক

সকেল সুভা ডাকেলও ‘আর একটু অিতির

আদর সংেযােগ’

অভািবত একিট িবষয়েক মেন করােত চাইেলন রবী নাথ।

তাপ ডােক, ‘সু’। এইখােন

ধু সমভাষা নয় গভীরতর অেথ

কথা বেল সম কৃিতর মানুষ। সইসূে এমনিক তারা তির কের নয় িনজ ভাষাও।
এত শখ থাকেত রবী নাথ য কন হঠাৎ

তাপেক িছপ ফেল মাছ ধরার শখিটই

িদেলন আমােদর জানেত ই া কের। তার একটা কারণ িন য়ই ওই নঃশে র সাধারণ
ধমিটেক িনমাণ করেত চাওয়া। িক আেরা িকছু িক িছল? িনেজর জীবেনর
িলেখিছেলন একটা

ারে রবী নাথ

‘মাছ ধরা’৭। বেলিছেলন সািহিত করা ভাব-এর সেরাবের জাল ফেল

নয়, মাছ ধেরন িছপ

ফেল। তােত

কৗশল লােগ। কখনও কখনও তারা পেরর

‘মনঃসেরাবের’ও ‘কেথাপকথেনর’ চার বা টাপ ফেল সং হ কেরন ‘ভাব’। িবষয়টা এখােন
আপাতভােব উে া। কারণ সুভা তা কথাই বেল না।
কৗশেল িছপ ফেল


তাপ তুেল আনেব সুভার মেন পািলেয় যাওয়া ভাব? গে র এই অংেশর

হল ওই পরম নঃশ ই এখােন হেয় উেঠেছ আকা

অবাি ত িন

ার িবষয়। এই

গাপন ইে েক।


কথা েলােক। ‘মাছ ধরা’
পাের অেন র অ

তাপ তুেল আেন সুভার মেনর মেধ লুিকেয় থাকা

দয়ই আিব ার কের

নয় সুভার

বে ই িছল কথার ভতর িদেয়ই

কৃিত। িক

দেয় লুিকেয় থাকা

াতার ণপণায় সৃ হেয় উঠেত

কখনও কখনও অ হীন নীরবতাও য হেত পাের কথা-রই

তমন কথাই বেল।

জেলর ধাের

তােপর ‘অনিতদূের’ অেনক ণ বেস থেক থেক সুভার মেধ জাগত

একটা ইে । কানও একটা উপােয় যিদ স ‘আ য’ কের িদেত পাের
তাই স িবধাতার কােছ

থম সুভার

তােকই কউ কেরেছ ‘আদর’, িদেয়েছ ‘মযাদা’। আর সই সূে ই িনেজর

অজাে ই সুভার মেনর মেধ িছপ ফেল

সমাথক---এ গ

ায় তৈথবচ। তাহেল কান

াথনা করত ‘অেলৗিকক

তাপেক।মেন মেন

মতা’ । যিদ স জলকুমারী হত। আে

জল থেক উেঠ ঘােট রেখ যত সােপর মাথার মিণ। আর

তাপ যখন সই মািনক

িনেয় জেল ডুব িদেয় প ছত পাতােল, তখন দখত এক ‘আ য’ কা । সই জেলর তলায়

েপার অ ািলকায় আর সানার পালে
মেয় সু’! সই িকনা ‘গভীর িন

বেস রেয়েছ িকনা ‘বাণীকে র ঘেরর সই বাবা

পাতালপুরীর একমা রাজকন া’।

কী অ ুত! সুভার মেন গাপন থাকা বাসনায় কাথাও এতটুকু

কথা বলেত চাওয়ার ইে ? উে

স িকনা হেত চেয়েছ ‘িন

রাজকন া! সুভার এই ইে - ত স বত ছায়া পেড়েছ বাংলার
মিণমালােক। রাজকন া যেহতু আজ

’ পাতালপুরীর একমা


মিণমালা’র৯। সােপর মাথার মিণ িনেয় পাতােল প েছ রাজপু

ান পায়িন তার

পকথা৮ ‘পাতাল-কন া
িবেয় কের পাতালকন া

রেয়েছ পাতােল তাই পৃিথবী দখবার তার ভাির সাধ।

একিদন একা একা জল থেক উেঠ ঘােট আসেতই ঘিনেয় ওেঠ িবপদ। শেষ ওই মিণ িনেয়ই
এবার মিণমালা রাজপু েক উ ার কের পাতাল থেক । তারপর তারা পৃিথবীেত এেস সংসার
গেড়। িক

করব, সুভার ইে টা এর উে া। মিণর অ ুত

তাপেক সুভা িনেয় আসেত চায় তার ‘িন
রাজকন া হেয় সুভা

মতা িদেয় পৃিথবীেত নয়

’তায়। ওই ‘পাতালপুরী’ ত। পাতালপুরীর

তাপেক পিরচয় কিরেয় িদেত চায় ওই অব ে র সে । গে র

মজাটা এইখােনই। নানান জড়ে র মধ িদেয় িবরাট পৃিথবীেক দখা য আসেল পৃিথবীেক খ
কের দখা সুভার ওই সুগভীর অব ে র মেধ যেত চাওয়া যন তােকই তজনী িনে প কের।
সুভার ‘মনঃসেরাবের’ সািহিত েকর িছপিট ফেল ওই ইি য়ময় দখােক তু
িনেদশ করেলন ওই ইি য়াতীত দখােকই। ‘দৃি দান’ গে

কের রবী নাথ

কুমু বেলিছল১০, ‘যতটুকু দিখেল

কাজ ভােলা হয় চাখ তাহার চেয় বিশ দেখ।’ ‘এখন চ ল চােখর অবতমােন আমার অন

ইি য় তাহােদর কতব শা

পারব, বাইের থেক যা

ও স ণভােব কিরেত লািগল।’ তিলেয় ভাবেল বুঝেত

িতব কতা, ভতের রেয়েছ তারও একিট স ূণতর

প। চােখর

দখায় এত বিশ দখা যায় বেলই যমন ‘স ূণ’ ক জানা যায় না তমিন কথােতও এত বিশ
বলা হয় বেলই নঃশ র সে িমিলেয় তােকও শানা হয় না স ূণত।
সুভা বেড়া হেয় ওেঠ আর কন াভার

িপতামাতার ওপর নেম আেস সমােজর খড়গ।

িকছুিদেনর জন হঠাৎ িবেদেশ িগেয়, িফের আসেতই পুনরায়

হল যা ার

উেদ াগ। ‘িক এক আশ াবেশ’ সুভা ঘুের ফের তার বাপ-মােয়র সে সে । তখনই একিদন
জেল িছপ ফেল

তাপ হােস, বেল, ‘কী র সু, তার নািক বর পাওয়া গেছ, তুই িবেয়

করেত যাি স? দিখস আমােদর ভুিলস ন।’ বেলই ফর কােজ মন দয় স। সুভার িবেয়
িবষেয় িন
চেয় দেখ


তাপেক সুভা দেখ। ‘হিরণী ব ােধর’ িদেক যমনভােব তাকায়, তমিনভােব

তাপেক। যন ‘নীরেব’ বেল ‘আিম তামার কােছ কী দাষ কিরয়ািছলাম।’

‘পাতালকন া মিণমালা’র গ টা যন হঠাৎ একটা ধা া খায়।
সুভার ওই ই ার ভাষােক সুভার কােছ


দেয়র সংেবদন িদেয়

তাপই তা কের তুেলেছ মূত। িনেজর ‘অনিতদূের’

সুভােক বিসেয় ওই সামিয়ক ‘বাক হীন’ নঃশে র ‘স ী’ কের পেতও চেয়েছ তােক। িক
তাই বেল সুভার ‘ইে র’ ‘স ী’ হেয় ওই ‘িন
সে সে সুভার ইে র একটা সূ
উিঠ। সুভার ওই পাতােলর একমা

’ লােক স কমনভােব যােব?
আঁচড়েক আমােদর মেন পেড় যায়। আমরা চমেক

রাজকন া হেত চাওয়ার পােশ িছল আেরা জ ির একটা

কথা, আমরা খয়াল কিরনা। সুভা হেত চেয়িছল জলকুমারী। পাতালরােজ র জলকুমারী।
সুভার এই মেনাগত আকা

ার মেধ

তমিন লুিকেয় িছল হা

যমন িছল

‘পাতালকন া মিণমালা’র মেতা দিশয়

অ া ারেসেনর১১ িল ল মারেমেডর মেতা িবেদিশ

পকথাও১২। তৎ ণাৎ মাছ ধরার অন তাৎপযিট স েক দৃি খুেল যায় আমােদর।


সম মেনােযাগ মাছ ধরেত চাওয়ায়, তাই না সুভা হেত চায় জলকুমারী, মৎস কন া।
মিণমালার মেতা মৎস কন ারও ভাির শখ িছল পৃিথবী দখবার। িক

বল দুেযােগ স দখল রাজপু েকও।

াণভয় তু

কের কােনামেত স িফের এল পাতােল। রাজপু

পৃিথবী দখেত

কের অৈচতন রাজপু েক র া

টর পল না, ক তার র িয় ী। মেন মেন

রাজপু েক ভােলােবেস মৎস কন া হেত চাইল মানুষ। দুই পৃথক জগৎেক

মময় সাজুেয

দখেত চেয় মৎস কন া গল ডাইিনর কােছ। মােছর মেতা ল ােজর বদেল স চায় দুেটা পা।

িত তব

হল, তার বদেল তার চাই মৎস কন ার ওই সুিম

র। আমরা

িশহিরত হই। কান দুগম পেথ রবী নাথ িমিলেয়েছন এ দুিটেক! ডাইিন বেলিছল রাজপু র
সম ভাবনায় যিদ জিড়েয় যেত না পােরা, যিদ রাজপু িববাহ কের অন

তেব মৎস কন ার

মৃতু অিনবায।রাজকন া স ত হল। আমরা ভািব িক ভেব স ত হল স? িন য়ই এইকথাই
ভেবেছ স,

দেয়র কথা িক বাচ িনভর? িন য়ই এইকথাই স ভেবেছ,



েদর ‘অ

অনুমানশি ’র

চায় অতল অসীমেক। পৃিথবীেত রাজপু
রাজপু মৎস কন ােক জানায়, তার
াণপণ কের? মৎস কন া

েমর অনুভবন

গাঢ়তােতই তা সত হয়,

শ করেত

আর মানুষ পী মৎস কন ার দখা হয়, হয় ব ু ও।

বল ঔৎসুক তােক জানবার, য, ক তােক র া কেরেছ

শােন। চুপ কের।

রাজ। তারপর একিদন অপ প এক

রাজকন ােক িবেয় কের এেন রাজপু জানায়, এই তা সই রাজকন া যার স ােন য িফেরেছ
এতিদন। মৎস কন ােক ভােলাবােসিন রাজপু

এই শেত সাত সাগেরর ফনায় ফনায় হািরেয়

যায় মৎস কন া।
‘হিরণী’ যভােব ‘ব ােধর’ িদেক চায়
দেয়র ভাষা


তােপর িদেক সুভাও চেয়েছল সভােবই। তার

েদর কােছ হেয় উঠেত পােরিন



মৃতু য ণাতুল ই। সুভাও িন য়ই মৎস কন ার মেতাই ভেবিছল দয় বাচ িনভর নয়, আর নয়
কাশিনভরও। দুেটা


মেয়িটর পৃিথবী

পৃিথবীেত বাঁধেত চেয়েছ ঘর। তার উে ািদেক সুভা

দখবার সাধ। দুিট

ে ই তারা

তাপেক িনেয় আসেত চেয়িছল তার

পৃিথবীেত। আর এখােনই তির হয় একটা

দয় স েকর বদনা ছাড়াও


উদাসীন হেয় থাকার িক রেয়েছ অন কােনা তাৎপয?
১৯২১ (১৩২৭) সােল রবী নাথ দখা করেবন হেলন কলােরর সে ১৩। তাঁেক
শানােবন িনেজর কিবতা: ‘খাঁচার পািখ িছল সানার খাঁচািটেত’। কিবর ঠাঁেটর ওপর আঙুল
রেখ আজ

অ -মূক-বিধর হেলন অনুভব করেলন সই গান। সই সা ােতই হেলন

‘বলেলন’, খাঁচার পািখর ক না নই, িক


াধীন কেরেছ তাঁর ক নাশি । সিদন য

বই তাঁেক উপহার িদেলন রবী নাথ, িলেখ িদেলন তার ভতর, ‘‘I forget, ever forget,
that the gates are shut everywhere I dwell alone,’’ (‘কে


দুয়ার স

কথা য যাই পাসির’)। ‘আিম চ ল আিম সুদূেরর িপয়ািস’ গােনর১৪ একিট পঙি


িদেলন হেলনেক। এর ভতর রেয়েছ একটা মজা। ওই গােন িছল, ‘িবপুল সুদূর’ ক আিম
জানেত চাই, িক একথা য যাই পাসির, যাই ভুেল য সখােন প ছেত পারার ‘ডানা’ আমার
নই। নই সংগিত। ভুেল যাই একথা, য, কত কত সীমাব তায়
িকছুেতই আমায় যেত দয়িন অসীেমর কােছ। িক
িলেখ িদেলন ইি েয়র দুয়ার-

হেয়েছ আমার ক


সই গােনর কথােকই যখন রবী নাথ

-হওয়া অথচ ‘ক নাশি ’র ডানায় ‘ াধীন’-হেত-পারা

মেয়িটর উে েশ, তখন সই গান িনেজর অথেক ছািড়েয় লাভ করল নবজ । রবী নাথ িক
একথাই বলেলন না হেলনর উে েশ, য, তাঁর জীবেন ইি েয়র যাবতীয় দুয়ার
আসেল আ যভােব উ ু

কেরেছ ওই ‘িবপুল সুদূর’ ক।

অথচ ১৮৯২ (১২৯৯)- ত এ গ

লখবার সময়ই রবী নাথ ভাবেত পেরিছেলন

একথা। রবী নােথর মেধ ঘিনেয় উেঠিছল এক
হণ করা যায় সত তর কের িক

’ ‘পাতালপুরী’ ত? আ

যােক আমরা


দেয়র সংেবদন িদেয় ভাষােক হয়েতা

ইি েয়র সং ার িনেয় িক সিত ই প ছেনা স ব ওই

করা স ব তােদর িনজ

িব য় আর ক নােক? আসেল

িতব কতা ভেবিছ, ভতের য রেয়েছ তারও একটা সুস ূণ আন েলাক।

চাইেলই িক অিধকার করা যায় তােক? বি েমর ‘রজনী’ পড়েত পড়েতও তাই মু


কখনও কখনও তির হয় সংশয়১৫। রজনী তার আ কথেন বেল ফেল, লব তার বৃ
কেশ কলপ িদেয় রি ত কের তােল তার কশ। আজ
য অস ব। িন ুক বলেব, এ হল বি েমর
সং ার যার আজ

অভ াস

িট। িক

অে র কােছ ওই বেণর ধারণা

আমরা বলব, এই হল সই ইি েয়র

িকছুেতই প ছেত দয়িন িনঃশত, ওই অব ে র অতেল। দুই

পৃিথবী যন এেক অপেরর কােছ মূত হেত চেয়, বেস আেছ অন

ম ।

নয়, যতটা
অেন র

তাপ তাই ম

তী ায়। অ া ারেসেনর

নয়। স উদাসীন। এইখােন তার ঔদাসীন ততটা ভাবজাত

াভািবক সং ারজাত।

তােপর হােত তাই সািহিত েকর ‘িছপ’িট িদেয় রবী নাথ

িত তার সংযুি েকও গড়েলন আর তির করেলন িবযুি র অসহায়তােকও।



িববােহর উেদ ােগ সুভােক কলকাতা িনেয় যাওয়া ি র হল। সুভা আঁকেড় রইল তার
িচরপিরিচত জন ান। মািটেত লুিটেয় এই ধরণীেক, এই ‘মূক মানবমাতােক’ যন বলেত চায়
স, আমারই মেতা তুিমও আমােক আঁকেড় ধের থােকা দু হাত িদেয়। কলকাতায় পা


আসার িদন সুভার মা তােক সাজােলন ‘খুব কের’। জিরর িফেত িদেয় চুল এঁেট খাঁপা কের,
‘অলংকাের আ
এ গে

’ কের ‘যথাসাধ িবলু ’ কের িদেলন সুভার ‘ াভািবক

’। িববাহ

স টা

ই াকৃত এেনেছন রবী নাথ। িববাহসূে ই এই অন জগেতর গে ও িতিন বলেত

চাইেলন একটা কথা। বািনেয়- তালা এই দখা- কই
আমরা ‘িবলু ’ কের িদই
কতখািন -— স কথা

মাগত। আর সইসূে

য় িদেত চেয় অেন র ‘ াভািবক’তােক
িনেজর ইি েয়র ওপর য অিবচার হয়

ভেব দিখ না আমরা। সত আর আ

না- চেয় আমার দখার িব ৃত অিধকারেকও য আিম


াভািবকেক দখেত

ু কির িনেজই।

পাে র দখেত আসার িদনেক ব াখ া কের রবী নাথ বলেলন, ‘ যন দবতা
বেছ িনেত আসেছন ‘িনেজর বিলর প ’। সুভার
সই পা

কের নয় ‘িহসাব’। আজ য


াস অ েক মেন মেন মেপ িনেয়

দয় বাপ-মােয়র িবে দেবদনায় ব িথত হে , কাল

তা-ই লাগেব তার ‘ব বহাের’।

দয়স কেক ‘িহসাব’ কের দখার—এই দ ের, একজন হেয়

ওেঠ ‘বিলর প ’। আর িনঃশে

ঘেট যায় অেন র আ সংহার। ইি য় িদেয় যত বিশ দখার

কথা িছল আমােদর, ততটা আর দখা হয় না িকছুেতই।
িববােহর পের অনিতিবলে সকেল বুঝল নববধূ বাবা। সুভা য ‘ তারণা’ কেরিন এ
কথা স বাঝােত পাের না কাউেক। চািরিদেক স চেয় থােক, ‘ভাষা পায় না’। যারা বুঝত
‘ বাবার ভাষা’ তােদর দখেত না- পেয় সুভার মেন বাজেত থােক ‘অসীম অব
রবী নাথ বলেলন ‘অ যামী ছাড়া আর- কহ তাহা

নেত পাইল না’। গ

রবী নাথ বলেলন, এবার তার ‘ ামী চ ু আর কেণি েয়র

শষ কের

ারা পরী া কিরয়া এক

ভাষািবিশ কন া িববাহ কিরয়া আিনল’।
ি তীয়বার

তািরত হেত-না- চেয় সুভার

ামী এবার িনেজর চােখর আর কােনর

সম ক পরী ায় িনেয় এেলন ‘এক ভাষািবিশ কন া’। িক

এ তা হল বাইেরর কথা। আর

ভতেরর কথাটা? সই কথাটুকু বেল িনেয় শষ করব কথা বলা।

রবী নাথ বেলেছন বাণীক

জািনত, স বাবা হইেব’। িক

যখন মেয়র নাম রাখেলন সুভািষণী, ‘তখন ক

আমােদর অ ুত লােগ, বাণীক

না-হয় জানেতন না, িক

রবী নাথ য জানেতন, িতিন িলখেত চেলেছন এক মূক মেয়র গ । তেব? তেব, িতিন কন
তার নাম িদেলন, সুভািষণী? অিভধােন দখব১৬, ‘ভাষণ’ শে র অথ উ ােযর িনিরেখ নয়, বরং
যা অনু ায সই ভাষ, ভাবও ভাষা। সংসার িব ৃত হেয় থােক সই আ য কথাখানাই। সম

জুেড় সই ব মাি ক, সুিব ৃত ‘কথা বলা’ ক তুেল ধেরই রবী নাথ বলেত চাইেলন,

10 | R A K H I M I T R A

অ ত তাঁর কােছ সুভা মূক নয়। যথােথই স সুভািষণী। এবার ল
পঙি টা। এতিদন সুভার

ামীর ি তীয় িববােহর পঙি র ‘এক’ শ িটেক আমরা পেড়িছ

‘কন া’র িবেশষণ িহেসেব। ভাষািবিশ
‘এক’ ভাষািবিশ

করব গে র শষ

কন ােক।

সুভার ব

‘এক’ কন ােক। গূঢ়ােথ ওটা ভাষার িবেশষণ। অথাৎ
িরক ভাষার বদেল

‘এক ভাষািবিশ ’ মেয়েক। ইি েয়র অযুত দুয়ার

ামী এবার িবেয় কের আনল

কের ‘এক ভাষািবিশ ’ হেয় জগৎেক

জানেত চেয়ই তারও শানা হয় না সুভািষণীর ‘কথা’।
উে খপি
১. ‘িব াপন’, ‘রজনী’, বি মচ


থম খ , ১৭৫ তম জ বািষকী সং রণ,

পি মব সরকার, ১১ আষাঢ় ১৪২১, পৃ. ৭৪৬।
২. তেদব, ‘রজনীর কথা’, থম পিরে দ, পৃ.৭৪৭।
৩. তেদব, ‘রজনীর কথা’, ি তীয় পিরে দ, পৃ. ৭৫৪।
৪. ‘সুভা’ গে র সম

উ ৃিত

. রবী -রচনাবলী, দশম খ , সাধশতজ বষ সং রণ,

পি মব সরকার, ৭ পৗষ ১৪২১, পৃ. ১৭১-১৭৫।
৫. ‘সািহত সৃি ’, ‘সািহত ’, রবী নাথ ঠাকুর,

কাশ ১৩১৪, পুনমু ণ ভা ১৩৯৫, িব ভারতী,

৬.‘ াবণস া’, ‘শাি িনেকতন’, রবী নাথ ঠাকুর, রবী -রচনাবলী, প দশ খ , িব ভারতী,
কাশ চ ১৩৪৯, পুনমু ণ ভা ১৩৯৩ পৃ. ৪৬৮-৪৭৪।
৭.‘মাছ ধরা’, ‘িবিবধ স ’, রবী নাথ ঠাকুর, রবী -রচনাবলী, অচিলত সং হ,
িব ভারতী,

থম খ ,

কাশ আি ন ১৩৪৭, পুনমু ণ মাঘ ১৩৯২ পৃ. ৪৬৮-৪৭৪।

৮. ‘সুভা’ গে র িভতের য লুিকেয় আেছ দুিট িবেশষ
উে খ কেরিছেলন অধ াপক তেপা ত ঘাষ।

পকথার কািহিনসূ , সকথা


. ‘ াককথন’, ‘রবী - ছাটগে র িশ


কাশ বশাখ ১৩৯৭, পিরমািজত সং. ২২ াবণ ১৪০৮, পৃ. ১৮।
৯. ‘পাতাল-কন া মিণমালা’, ‘ঠাকুরমার ঝুিল: বাংলার

পকথা’, দি ণার ন িম


কাশ ১৯০৭, ব ব ত সং. ১৪২০, িম ও ঘাষ, পৃ. ১৪৮-১৫৮।
১০. ‘দৃি দান’ রবী -রচনাবলী, দশম খ , সাধশতজ বষ সং রণ, পি মব

সরকার, ৭

পৗষ ১৪২১, পৃ. ৪৩৮-৩৯।
১১. “The Little Sea Maid”, in ‘The Complete Illustrated Stories of Hans
Christian Andersen’, Trans. H.W. Dulcken, Chancellor Press, 1982.GB. pp.
১২. ‘ ছা জলকন া’, ‘অপ প পকথা’, ‘িকেশার রচনা সম ’, ি তীয় খ , বু েদব বসু,
স াদনা অেশাক সন ও েভ ু দাশমু ী।
11 | R A K H I M I T R A

কাশ মাঘ ১৪০৭, পৃ. ৪১৭-৪২৯ ।

১৩. হেলন কলার- রবী নােথর সা াৎ স িকত সম

তথ ,

. ‘রিবজীবনী’, অ ম খ ,

কাশ জানুয়াির ২০০১, আন , পৃ. ৫৫-৫৬।
১৪. ‘আিম চ ল হ’, িবিচ

পযায়, ‘গীতিবতান’, রবী -রচনাবলী, স ম খ , সাধশত জ বষ

সং রণ, পি মব সরকার, ৭ পৗষ ১৪২০, পৃ. ৫৫১।
১৫. ‘রজনী’ স েক বি মচে র এই িবেশষ িব েমর স ান স িকত ঋণ রেয়েছ

েভ ু

দাশমু ীর এই

েভ ু

ব িটর কােছ।

. ‘কে


দাশমু ী, ‘হীরকদু িত’, বিসরহাট কেলজ, হীরক জয় ী
১৬. . ‘বা ালা ভাষার অিভধান’,
সািহত সংসদ, পৃ. ১৬৮২।

12 | R A K H I M I T R A

দুয়ার: রজনী থেক সুভারা’,

, ২০০৮, পৃ. ১১৪-১২১।

ােন েমাহন দাস, ি তীয় ভাগ, ব ব ত সং. জুলাই ২০১০,

Notes on the Authors
Christina Maria Mirza
Christina Maria Mirza is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, St.
Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata. She graduated with Honours in English
from St Xavier’s College and subsequently obtained a Master’s degree and an
M.Phil. from Jadavpur University. Specializing in Nineteenth Century women’s
poetry, she is currently pursuing doctoral research on Charlotte Mew.

Anne Herbert
Anne Herbert, lecturer in English, earned her B.A. from Bradley University, her
M.A. from Northwestern University, specializing in British Victorian Studies and
Postcolonial Literatures, and has completed doctoral courses in English at
Northwestern University and in English Studies at Illinois State University. She
joined the Department of English at Bradley University in 1995, and during her
early teaching assignments, was actively involved in research focused on racial and
gender issues in British Victorian Drama, particularly nineteenth-century theatrical
productions, such as British minstrelsy, music hall, and pantomime. Ms. Herbert’s
research activities in the British Library in London and the Bodleian Library in
Oxford focused on pamphlets and polemical literature distributed by the British
Anti-Slavery Society and other abolitionist organizations during the period
surrounding the American Civil War.

Debarati Bandyopadhyay
Dr Debarati Bandyopadhyay is a Professor of English at the Department of English
and Other Modern European Languages at Visva-Bharati University. She
completed her PhD - on “Melancholy Impressions: Re-reading Thomas Hardy’s
Major Novels” - from Calcutta University in 2004. She has presented papers at
national and international seminars and conferences, in India and abroad,
organized by Universities

and reputed organizations like ACLALS, MELUS-MELOW, Forum on
Contemporary Thought, All India English Teachers’ Association etc. She has also
published a number o translations (from English to Bengali), reviews and scholarly
articles on literature in English and Bengali.

Oindrila Ghosh
Dr Oindrila Ghosh is currently Assistant Professor in English, School of
Humanities, Netaji Subhas Open University. Her PhD is on the treatment of
motherhood in the short stories of Thomas Hardy. She has been a Charles Wallace
India Trust UK, Scholar, 2009 and recipient of the Frank Pinion Award, 2014 from
The Thomas Hardy Society, Dorset, UK. She has presented papers and published
widely on Thomas Hardy in reputed International journals including The Victorian,
Hardy Society Journal, The Thomas Hardy Journal and The Hardy Review and is
also the only Checklister from India for The Directory of Thomas Hardy’s works
for The Thomas Hardy Association, USA. She has also delivered several invited
lectures on various aspects of Hardy’s works in Colleges and Universities West
BengalShe is currently Associate at the Inter University Centre of UGC at IIAS
Shimla (2015 onwards).

Sabrina Gilchrist
Sabrina Gilchrist is a PhD Candidate at the University of Florida, where she focuses
on Victorian Literature and Women’s Studies. Her primary research interests
include dance, performance, class, gender studies, and the body. Her dissertation

the role of the ballroom in Victorian England—how dance and the

ballroom were regulated in order to maintain certain prescribed norms, particularly
in terms of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and class. She is also interested in
how those prescribed norms and other classical tropes are carried through into
contemporary mediums like television and film. She has recently published a
chapter about BBC’s Luther in Fiona Peters’ and Rebecca Stewart’s Antihero edited

Alison Halsall
Dr. Alison Halsall is an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities at
York University, Toronto, Canada. She has recently published an edition of
H.D.’s White Rose and the Red with the University Press of Florida. She has
also published articles on the Pre-Raphaelites, South Park, Harry Potter, and
neo-Victorianism in contemporary graphic novels.