Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca with Linzi from 33% Pulp

This is a belated blog post for the episode ‘Playing Mrs De Winter… Rebecca By Daphne Du Maurier with Linzi from 33% Pulp’of the FrankenPod. Click here to add us into your podcast app!

First things first, I’m so grateful to Linzi for making the time to not only talk to me about the book but taking the time to reread it! Linzi’s amazing podcast is called 33% Pulp in which she, her cohost Daniel and a rotating third host recap a work of pulp fiction one third at a time. It is very funny and I listen to new episodes as soon as they come up in my podcast feed.

Linzi shares some very interesting theories and insights into this amazingly ambiguous text and talks about how her view of the novel has changed since her first reading.

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Never read Rebecca?

‘Rebecca’ was released in 1938 and owes much of its success to the possible straight romantic reading, but when you complicate the narrative by drawing attention to the unreliable narrator and the subversive themes that hide just below the surface there is something very strange, gothic and wonderful going on.

An unnamed young girl with no family meets a dark, broody Mr Rochester of Jane Eyre type, the widower Mr Maximillian Dewinter type while in Monte Carlo, he proposes to her after like a week or two and they go to his estate and Mansion Mandalay.

His first wife called him Max but he tells our named narrator she must call him Maxim

But the first Mrs De winter, the titular Rebecca has not quite left. Her presence is felt everywhere and her former personal maid Mrs Danvers is of the firm opinion that our unnamed narrator has in someway usurped Rebecca’s role in the house and we as readers think that this is going to be the plot, the pseudo haunting of the unnamed narrator by the more elegant, sophisticated and attractive Rebecca. But…

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The Gothic City

Welcome to The FrankenPod a podcast stitched together from the corpses of mystery, noir and gothic literature and cinema. This is just a short bitesize episode this week.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in the castles, monasteries and estates of the gothic tradition. The dramatic architecture featured in countless gothic tales such as The Castle Otranto, Northanger Abbey, The Monk and even isolated estates like Wuthering Heights are hard mental images to shake when conjuring up images of a gothic backdrop.

However, if we can depart from these places of heritage and means to more recently fabricated structures, the roads and slums of the city are certainly fit for our sinister gothic purposes.

The cold unfeeling city with its grit, grime and smog have become a staple in gothic literature since the industrial revolution. The distrust of mechanisation and the visible incorporation of the poor into that mechanisation made the city into a monstrous spectacle of poverty barely hidden from the upper and middle classes from whom a great deal of the literature of the time emanated. The impoverished and the working class were vulnerable, expendable and silent, as they had been for time immemorial, through feudal systems and imperialism. Things were beginning to shift in 19th Century England however as the industrialised city placed the new middle class in a position in which they could become socially mobile and have means to rival the aristocracy. And all classes were seemingly perched on a precipice, one false move and they could end up penniless in a poorhouse, at least that was the perception. This anxiety around class and poverty paved the way for writers like Dickens and Henry Mayhew who show the perils and pitfalls of a class system in crisis.

Henry Mayhew is not one of our gothic authors but is an early investigative journalist who spent a lot of time interviewing the poverty-stricken of London. One of my favourite writers William Makepeace Thackeray wrote of Mayhew’s work ‘London Labour and the London Poor

‘A picture of human life so wonderful, so awful…so exciting and terrible’

The city of Paris in a state of revolutionary crisis is the not only the setting but key to Guy Endore’s portrayal of the Werewolf in The Werewolf of Paris. Paris is continually cannibalising itself in much the same way as the Werewolf does to his victim. Endore’s story is one I would love to examine further, but that will have to wait. Here, however, is a quote from the narrative that explores the inhumanity and mass atrocities that occur when a city beset with internal conflict:

“Why should this one wolf be shut up for an individual crime, when mass crimes go unpunished? When all society can turn into a wolf and be celebrated with fife and drum and with flags curling in the wind? Why then shouldn’t this dog have his day too?”

For more listen to The FrankenPod Episode “The Cold Unfeeling City”

Sources:

My Favourite Vampire with Sarah from Good Nightmare

This post accompanies The FrankenPod episode My Favourite Vampire

Dracula is one of those monsters who is so pervasive and terrifying, I’ve already explored how he has been contorted and manipulated to fit our social anxieties. Despite the very “of their time” nature of Dracula adaptations, the appeal of certain adaptations divisive, and not by the age of the reader or viewer and the contemporary adaptations of their time. The novel Dracula has a timeless appeal that may not be entirely the case with a movie. The 1931 movie has an enduring quality, but it has visibly aged and has lost its edge, the 1992 movie is still narratively compelling but the effects and augmentation of the original text place it firmly in the 90s. I asked a fellow Australian podcaster, Sarah, from Good Nightmare to tell me why the novel is such a favourite of hers.

In order to fully explore Dracula we would be remiss if we didn’t cover the 1931 movie

Fun fact the Spanish language Dracula was filmed on the same set, but at night, so they were able to perfect the shots that the American crew may have botched a little. Many many regard the Spanish version as the superior film. I have not watched the Spanish version but I instead watched the American Universal Studios Version of Dracula directed by Carl Laemmle jr. and starring Bela Lugosi as the titular Count.

 

The 1931 movie features a lot of close-ups of Dracula, with lights focused on his eyes. This way of depicting the hypnotic gaze is effective but more than a tiny bit ridiculous. Also, we never see a bite, we just see people leaning ominously in and the scene fades or the vampire moves slowly and ominously out of shot. The movie is as subtle as a brick, but let’s face it you don’t come to Universal Studios Monster canon for a nuanced story. They have very obviously styled Lucy as a “modern woman”, and carried out some serious 1930s slut-shaming, because she deserved to be bitten, unlike the pure and innocent Mina. Hey everyone, can we have an adaption of Dracula in which we don’t care about Lucy because she is less chaste or special than her friend Mina? Please. If there is one please let me know because I would love to see it.

I’ve said some nasty things about the film, but I do really appreciate some very special elements that the film brings to the Dracula narrative,

The movie gives us an origin story for Renfield (which means we get soooo much supernaturally crazed Dwight Frye which I am 100% here for)

Helen chandler’s performance is wonderful, over the top and just beautiful. Obviously, Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Eric Van Sloan as Van Helsing are the most iconic characters in the movie but Helen Chandler as Mina Harker almost mare me like the character of Mina more. The bushy moustaches of the Transylvanian villagers are something to behold, honestly, this movie’s moustache game may be the best I’ve seen. An honourable mention has to go to Jonathan’s Suits. They almost made him interesting.

The Brontës

This week The FrankenPod (rss feed for podcast app) episode is a conversation with Megan from Oh No! Lit Class on the literary family the Brontës. The gothic classic Jane Eyre was penned by Charlotte and Emily wrote the eerily gothic Wuthering Heights. It’s a bit of a rambling chat in which we also delve into the comedy sci-fi world of Douglas Adams, the childhood trauma of the Goosebumps series and the Byronic elements of Christian Gray, so I don’t have a script to publish. So here are some quotes from the works of the children of Patrick Brontë who survived to adulthood:

Photo by John Illingworth
Photo by John Illingworth. Branwell Brontë A wood statue by the canal depicting Branwell, the black sheep of the Brontë family, as well as other landmarks and characteristics of Calderdale. Branwell was for a couple of years a booking clerk at the nearby Luddendenfoot railway station but left under a cloud.

Patrick Branwell Brontë

Thorpe Green by Patrick Branwell Brönte

I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,

And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago.Unwelcome cares, unthought-of fears,
Around my room arise;
I seek for suns of former years
But clouds o’ercast my skies.Yes-Memory, wherefore does thy voice
Bring old times back to view,
As thou wouldst bid me not rejoice
In thoughts and prospects new?I’ll thank thee, Memory, in the hour
When troubled thoughts are mine-
For thou, like suns in April’s shower,
On shadowy scenes wilt shine.I’ll thank thee when approaching death
Would quench life’s feeble ember,
For thou wouldst even renew my breath
With thy sweet word ‘Remember’!

Charlotte Bronte by G. Richmond 1850
Charlotte Bronte by G. Richmond 1850

Charlotte Brontë

Quote from Jane Eyre spoken by Jane herself:

“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again. […] I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.”

Disputed portrait by her brother Branwell; sources are in disagreement over whether this image is of Emily or Anne
Disputed portrait by her brother Branwell; sources are in disagreement over whether this image is of Emily or Anne

Emily Brontë

Quote from Wuthering Heights, taken from Nelly’s final narration:

Mr. Kenneth was perplexed to pronounce of what disorder the master died. I concealed the fact of his having swallowed nothing for four days, fearing it might lead to trouble, and then, I am persuaded, he did not abstain on purpose: it was the consequence of his strange illness, not the cause.

We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he wished. Earnshaw and I, the sexton, and six men to carry the coffin, comprehended the whole attendance. The six men departed when they had let it down into the grave: we stayed to see it covered. Hareton, with a streaming face, dug green sods, and laid them over the brown mould himself: at present it is as smooth and verdant as its companion mounds—and I hope its tenant sleeps as soundly. But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he walks: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you’ll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on ’em looking out of his chamber window on every rainy night since his death

Anne Brontë Drawn by Charlotte
Anne Brontë Drawn by Charlotte

Anne Brontë

From the introduction to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall:

I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.

We need to talk about Igor…

This article was written as part of The FrankenPod‘s exploration of the cultural legacy of the Frankenstein myth.

When I was little I thought Igor came from the story of Frankenstein.

When I was a teenager I thought they created Igor for the film.

Now that I’m an adult I have no goddamn idea. The “Igor” of the 1931 Frankenstein… was not called Igor, his name was Fritz. So where did this rambling, pivotal, yet utterly disposable character come from? Is he really a 20th century Universal Studios creation or is there something more to this embodiment of the strange, the gatekeeper to monstrosity and unnerving manservant that we call “Igor”.

 

Its an iconic image, the obsessed mad scientist connecting the wires to his creature and the machinery that presumably has something to do with the whole process. He might cackle, he might yell to the heavens, he might even wear steampunk goggles. But in this equation of the isolated man and his dangerous obsession, there is often a third party, someone to flick the switch. Enter Igor.

Or Ygor.

Or Fritz.

His character generally fills at least one of these three roles:

  1. The other that acts as a buffer between the doctor and his creation, such as in the 1931 brain mix up, we can blame almost anything on Fritz in his role as the assistant.
  2. The humanity to the Doctor’s crazed monstrous mania. He is in on the project, and tries to stop the Doctor or appeal to his better nature, in vain.
  3. A human exposition facilitator. In the novel of Frankenstein which features no assistant, the primary story telling of the creation process occurs over a large passage of time and through Victor’s narration. So without an overarching voice narration, an assistant can ask the questions that will allow the Doctor to fill the audience in on what is happening.

 

Presumption; Or the Fate of Frankenstein (1823)

Richard Brinsley Peake’s stage adaptation would set up some the more outlandish and comedic elements of the modern Frankenstein myth. In this play Victor’s friend Henry Clerval from the novel and the new character invented for the play, Fritz, assist him in his experiments. This allows for a broad distribution of blame for the subsequent events rather than all the responsibility lying at the feet of Doctor Frankenstein. Fritz also functions as an audience surrogate or even narrator in many parts.

 

Frankenstein (1931)

Dwight_Frye
Dwight Frye in A Strange Attraction 1932

Fritz (Dwight Frye) is definitely a scapegoat and entirely expendable. The criminal brain mix up is a game changer, it takes the blame away from Frankenstein, and places the emphasis on nature rather than nurture. He is a low stakes victim and by virtue of his cruelty towards the Creature and unfortunately due to his appearance. The ablist judgements at play in portrayal of Fritz and his successors give the audience an excuse to dislike the assistant right from the outset, which I think we can all agree is an issue and deeply problematic.

 

Son of Frankenstein (1939)Son_of_Frankenstein_movie_poster.jpg

We are introduced to Bela Lugosi’s Ygor. Ygor also has a physical impairment which was the result of an attempt to hang him for grave robbing. The former blacksmith can control the “Monster” making him a formidable opponent for Frankenstein’s son. The cultural othering of Ygor or the assistant as being a different nationality and therefore strange.

 

mcdyofr-ec003_h.jpg
Marty Feldman as Igor

Young Frankenstein (1974)

This time played by Marty Feldman, and named Igor, this comedy portrayal of the assistant would shape our understanding of the character forever. His exaggerated and unnerving appearance combined with Feldman’s incomparable and unsettling performance has buried the “Igor” deep into our collective cultural understanding of the Frankenstein myth.

 

We will be watching Victor Frankenstein soon. I’m excited to see how Daniel Radcliffe deals with the somewhat intangible legacy of Igor.

Betjeman, Buchan, Wilde and The Yellow Book

This is an article released as part of The FrankenPod’s exploration of Oscar Wilde and his place in the gothic literary canon.

The poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel” is a subtle yet insistent condemnation of the society that allowed for the prosecution of Wilde. In depicting the final moments before Wilde’s arrest Sir John Betjeman talks of The Yellow Book.

Sir_John_Betjeman_(1906-1984)
Sir John Betjeman

“So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:

And Buchan has got in it now:

Approval of what is approved of

Is as false as a well-kept vow.

-Sir John Betjeman

To unpack this passage we need to know a little about the aforementioned Yellow book. The Yellow Book was a yellow clothbound publication that featured salacious and subversive stories, many of them French. Many note that a yellow book, similar to the future periodical was given to Dorian Gray by Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray written by Oscar Wilde in 1891.

Is it possible this could be part of the inspiration for the name of the periodical?

Well kind of. The phenomenon of the illicit French narrative was very much alive during the time Oscar Wilde was writing The Picture of Dorian Gray. But the yellow bound book is not an invention of Wilde’s but rather a common mode of publication for these transgressive tales. It follows that if Lord Henry was to procure such a corrupting, violent and heavily sexualized book it would more than likely have been presented in this yellow bound format. The periodical The Yellow Book is named after this publication presentation phenomenon that preceded The Picture of Dorian Gray.

It was also known as “The Yellow Nineties” due to its decade of publication.

The quarterly publication is cited as running from 1894 to 1897 and came under heat when Oscar Wilde was seen to be carrying a similar book, leading to outraged crowds throwing stones at the office of the publication. That gives you a bit of a clue as to the kind of societal outrage Oscar Wilde was facing. In this time of crisis in Wilde’s life, his arrest for gross indecency, surely seeing the publication whose name could have been inspired by his prose, give way to a style of writing so distanced from his own aesthetic style would be another blow to the great author.

The implications that this has for the poem is that these tales that challenge social mores are being supplanted by John Buchan’s more tame prose.

I am not entirely sure what Wilde’s opinion of Buchan’s writing really was but Wilde, as written by Betjeman, positions himself and aestheticism as the unconventional to Buchan’s conventionally appealing writing. By the Yellow Book publishing the work of Buchan, Betjeman is implying that challenging works such as Wilde’s that have achieved hard-earned success have been pushed aside to make way for less groundbreaking potboilers. This is a gross simplification of the two author’s works but that is not a reflection on the beauty of the poem.

The poem is the essence of the societal rejection of Wilde, his fall from favour and the sense that the world of literature will continue on without him.

John Buchan and his brand of thriller are the future and Wilde’s aestheticism is the past. Literature may have suffered greatly from the loss of Wilde’s unwritten work, but what is done is done. And in 1937 when Betjeman is writing this poem the literary scene had undergone a massive transformation, he seems nostalgic but resigned to the change that sweeps through everything eventually.

LILLIE_LANGTRY_-_Cadogan_Hotel_21_Pont_Street_Chelsea_London_SW1X_9SG
Cadogan Hotel By Spudgun67 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
As the poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel” is the creative property of Betjeman  I will not be reproducing it in full but I am providing a link to the poem in full from Poetry By Heart who has permission to reproduce the poem.

So with that, we say goodbye to Wilde for now. The world of mystery and espionage that Buchan’s work forms part of could be in our future.

The passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray which introduces the nature of the yellow book:

“His eye fell on the yellow book that Lord Henry had sent him. What was it, he wondered. He went towards the little, pearl-coloured octagonal stand that had always looked to him like the work of some strange Egyptian bees that wrought in silver, and taking up the volume, flung himself into an arm-chair and began to turn over the leaves. After a few minutes he became absorbed. It was the strangest book that he had ever read. It seemed to him that in exquisite raiment, and to the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of the world were passing in dumb show before him. Things that he had dimly dreamed of were suddenly made real to him. Things of which he had never dreamed were gradually revealed.

It was a novel without a plot and with only one character, being, indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian who spent his life trying to realize in the nineteenth century all the passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except his own, and to sum up, as it were, in himself the various moods through which the world-spirit had ever passed, loving for their mere artificiality those renunciations that men have unwisely called virtue, as much as those natural rebellions that wise men still call sin. The style in which it was written was that curious jewelled style, vivid and obscure at once, full of argot and of archaisms, of technical expressions and of elaborate paraphrases, that characterizes the work of some of the finest artists of the French school of Symbolistes. There were in it metaphors as monstrous as orchids and as subtle in colour. The life of the senses was described in the terms of mystical philosophy. One hardly knew at times whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some mediaeval saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner. It was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and to trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the sentences, the subtle monotony of their music, so full as it was of complex refrains and movements elaborately repeated, produced in the mind of the lad, as he passed from chapter to chapter, a form of reverie, a malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of the falling day and creeping shadows.”

Thanks for reading

Morgan

The Monstrosity of Orchids – Floral Arrangments in Dorian Gray

This is the last Dorian Gray post for a while for The FrankenPod I swear!

If you have read the 1891 book or even watched the first season of Penny Dreadful you will be asking… Hey Dorian what’s with all the weird flower sniffing?

In his gothic masterpiece The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde is pretty blatant in his symbolism, he basically hits us over the head with a laburnum branch (symbolic of forsaken, pensive beauty apparently). That doesn’t mean that the symbolism is worthless by virtue of its visibility. There is something charming in Wilde’s insistence that we acknowledge the collective symbolic weight of flowers. It is what makes Wilde easy for students to dissect for meaning and also what upsets those who like their literary motifs and themes more artfully hidden.

So what is with all the flowers?

The flowers can be read as a representation of sensory temptation as in this passage from the very first meeting between Dorian and Lord Henry:

“Lord Henry went out to the garden and found Dorian Gray burying his face in the great cool lilac-blossoms, feverishly drinking in their perfume as if it had been wine. He came close to him and put his hand upon his shoulder. “You are quite right to do that,” he murmured. “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.”

Lord Henry is using Dorian’s little sensory indulgences as a gateway to more lascivious behaviour. Henry is the ultimate voyeur, his corruption of Dorian Gray is purely experimental, creating a spectacle to observe. Is it possible Lord Henry is a sociopath?

Henry also uses flowers to open the door to paranoia, fear of the passing of time and the advent of old age. Flowers are temporary and wilt and wither like youth. But flowers renew seasonally Dorian will not.

“The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!”

This passage of Lord Henry’s evangelism is followed by an important visual representation of Dorian’s naivety surrounding the rapid loss of youth in which he drops “a spray of lilacs” (lilacs being symbolic of purity and innocence) discarding the first protective layer of his innocence. Then there is a weird bit of action with a bee and a flower that some read to be sexual, and it is a bit weird but I think it might have to do with pollination and the beginning of Lord Henry’s corruption of Dorian. But what do I know?

On the subject of Lord Henry’s manipulation here is a weird flower laden passage in which creepy Henry is creepy.

“Lord Henry watched him with a subtle sense of pleasure. How different he was now from the shy, frightened boy he had met in Basil Hallward’s studio! His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms of scarlet flame.”

Basil, however, establishes the flower as Symbolic of the soul very early on in the novel as he describes his relationship with Dorian:

“Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to someone who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day”

In the final confrontation between Dorian and Basil, Dorian crushes a flower which could signify Basil’s soul or Dorian’s innocence or both as he is about to murder his friend who was completely besotted with him from the outset. Later as Dorian has resolved to murder his friend he crushes the flower which could be a stand-in for Basil’s soul as alluded to previously. Or it could be Dorian crushing his last semblance of innocence or humanity:

“Years ago, when I was a boy,” said Dorian Gray, crushing the flower in his hand, “you met me, flattered me, and taught me to be vain of my good looks. One day you introduced me to a friend of yours, who explained to me the wonder of youth, and you finished the portrait of me that revealed to me the wonder of beauty. In a mad moment, that, even now, I don’t know whether I regret or not, I made a wish, perhaps you would call it a prayer….

Flowers as Symbolic of Innocence and Virginity

The flowers can also be interpreted as a symbol of innocence with the three key players, Basil, Dorian and Lord Henry practically engulfed by flowers as the story opens, perhaps signifying the innocence that would gradually disappear as we go deeper into Dorian’s downward spiral. 

There is also a great deal of floral imagery surrounding the innocent Sybil, with Sybil being explicitly likened to a flower;

A low moan broke from her, and she flung herself at his feet, and lay there like a trampled flower. “Dorian, Dorian, don’t leave me!” she whispered. “I am so sorry I didn’t act well. I was thinking of you all the time. But I will try—indeed, I will try.

Particular features of Sybil are also referred to in floral terms such as her lips being like petals. However late we find that not all flowers can be considered innocent and pure, there is one flower that is given monstrous connotations.

The Monstrosity of Orchids

Orchids are traditionally symbolic of beauty, luxury and love, they also have associations with sexuality, virility and lust depending on the colour. The potential of orchids to represent qualities of than innocence depending on their colour becomes apparent during the corruption of Dorian as he reads the Yellow Book that was given to him by Lord Henry:

There were in it metaphors as monstrous as orchids and as subtle in colour

The orchid as a monstrosity and the relevance of its colour is relevant when we consider this interchange between Dorian and Francis after the death of Basil:

“Yes,” said Dorian. “And I am afraid, Francis, that I have another errand for you. What is the name of the man at Richmond who supplies Selby with orchids?”

“Harden, sir.”

“Yes—Harden. You must go down to Richmond at once, see Harden personally, and tell him to send twice as many orchids as I ordered, and to have as few white ones as possible. In fact, I don’t want any white ones. It is a lovely day, Francis, and Richmond is a very pretty place, otherwise I wouldn’t bother you about it.”

The absence or removal of white orchids (traditionally symbolic of innocence)  is perhaps symbolic of the removal of the last of Dorian’s humanity, now he only wants what is seen as dark and monstrous.

Bye Bye Dorian, you selfish pain in the butt.

Go sniff flowers elsewhere!

Sincerely

Morgan

 

Shakespeare’s BF – The Portrait of Mr W.H.

Hello! Here is another article that continues the themes and texts we are exploring in The FrankenPod.

This is an extra something-something to go with our exploration of Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray. It could be easy to dismiss Wilde’s contribution to the gothic literary canon as being somewhat of a one-hit-wonder situation. But there is this little story that as a Shakespeare conspiracy enthusiast (as a spectator, not necessarily as a subscriber to those theories) has a very dear place in my heart. There are a few features of The Portrait of Mr W.H. that will be familiar to readers of the exploits of Mr Gray.

Not many people consider it gothic, and that is fair, I can definitely see that argument. However, The Portrait of Mr W.H. features death, a potential curse, mystery and obsession; certainly traits we would ascribe to the gothic.

So what does this Victorian story have to do with Shakespeare?

Every.God.Damn.Thing.

SonnetsDedication
Dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

There are two people believed to be explicitly addressed in Shakespeare’s Sonnets; “The Fair Youth” and “The Dark Lady”. There are many theories as to the identities of these two, and it is “The Fair Youth” who is the preoccupation of the characters and potentially the author of The Portrait of Mr W.H. The sonnets are dedicated to a Mr W.H. who many theorists believe is “The Fair Youth” of the sonnets

It is widely believed that Shakespeare was either in some kind of romantic relationship with ‘The Fair Youth”, or at the very least infatuated with him. So if you could discover the identity of Mr W.H. it follows that you would have discovered the identity of the elusive writer’s love interest. There are two main theories as to who he might be William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, or Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. However, there are literary theorists who have posited more humble origins for Shakespeare’s muse. A young poor man would not necessarily have had the means to create lasting documentation, such as a grand portrait or written proof of his existence, and therein lies the issue,  you can’t possibly prove that this ignoble young man who might have been the object of the great bard’s affections exists, but you have no way to categorically prove he didn’t.  It seems this meant a great deal to Wilde, or at the very least Lord Alfred Douglas, the latter of whom explicitly stated that he believed the theory that is posited by Wilde in this story. The theory put forward by Wilde in the text, or rather put forward by Cyril Graham, was that Mr W.H. was, in fact, Willie Hughes, a player in Shakespeare’s company. Willie Hughes is thought to have played the young female parts in Shakespeare’s theatre company, or so the theory states.

But did Willie Hughes ever even exist?

The actor’s existence and the nature of belief are at the heart of The Portrait of Mr W.H.

285px-HenryWriothesley_1594
Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton

Erskine relays the story, very close to his heart about a young man who he was particularly fond of, a young man who is described in similar terms to Dorian Gray. Wilde does love to include very handsome young men in his books, and these young men occasionally descend into madness and despair. Wilde constructs his young men in crisis in much the same way as the spectacle of the damsel in distress is constructed. They are something to behold, Dorian Gray when we first meet him is serving as an artist’s model and the enchanting Cyril Graham is an aspiring actor. They are men being subject to the male gaze in a way that is similar to the righteous Mathilda and virginal Isabella in The Castle of Otranto or Lucy Westenra of Dracula with her multiple suitors and just about every young woman in Lewis’s The Monk.

However, less like the examples from The Monk and Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and more like Stoker’s Lucy Westenra, Dorian’s story takes a sinister turn when a destructive supernatural desire seizes him. Cyril Graham is a little different, he fashions himself as a Christ-like literary figure much like Walpole’s Mathilda.

When we are exploring the similarities between these two stories penned by Oscar Wilde there is also the use of a portrait as representative of a dangerous idea; for Dorian, it is eternal youth and beauty, for Cyril, it is the identity of Mr W.H. Suicide comes up a fair bit, as does the idea of the muse. As Dorian was Basil’s muse, so was Willie Hughes Shakespeare’s muse.

Let’s get into the story… It’s not a long tale and I would recommend reading it in its entirety. It is part of Lord Savile’s Crime and Other Stories.

But quick summary would be something like…

Continue reading “Shakespeare’s BF – The Portrait of Mr W.H.”

Art For Art’s Sake – Basil Hallward

Meet Basil Hallward, he enjoys painting on hilltops and painting in his studio. He just really likes painting and Dorian. Basil exudes warmth in the same way that Lord Henry can chill a person to the bone. Until Dorian came along, we get a distinct impression that Basil had friendships, but none that he was particularly invested in, to the point where they would interfere with his art. Then came Dorian Gray who became his art, and consequently his ruin.

Text: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, 1890/1891
Does he survive the novel? No

Motivation:

It seems that Basil would love to be motivated by art for art’s sake and beauty for beauty’s sake, but something has gone terribly awry for the painter who wished to hold up the mirror to the world and has instead found his own reflection front and centre in his work. Henry is quick to point out that Basil is not as good looking as Dorian, and he is right, but the artist’s concern that he has painted himself into the picture has more depth than Henry seems capable of fathoming. It is Basil’s desire for Dorian and his utter worship, obsession and dependence upon him that Basil sees as he looks at the picture. It is these factors that motivate Basil at the beginning of the novel. However, as Dorian’s innocence and purity diminish, his hold on Basil appears to lessen somewhat and it is his old the desire to display his art that forms part of the events that will lead to his death.

Basil as the Victim

Every gothic tale needs a victim, and Dorian Gray has many.

Why does Dorian kill Basil? Is it because he is tired of keeping his secret? Do Basil’s  horror and revulsion of the painting in its new monstrous form provoke his wrath? Or is it the simplest of all the answers, Basil is a threat to the painting, therefore Basil must be destroyed.

But why show Basil the painting at all? Yes, his constant questions were getting annoying, but surely Dorian could have said he destroyed it or it got damaged. I always got the impression that the murder of Basil was premeditated to an extent. Dorian was alert to the possibility when he walked his friend to the room where the painting lay. He may have acted on impulse, but he was acutely aware of that impulse and the ability to make good on it beforehand.

Why does Wilde kill Basil?

Basil is the last vestige of Dorian pre-Henry. Basil as the person who opened the door to vanity, left it open for corruption and Dorian blames him for that. Basil represents the last of Dorian’s virtue, and he must be destroyed for Wilde’s novel to begin the final stage of the narrative; the complete downfall of Mr Dorian Gray.

Favourite Quote

Basil in happier times:

“You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not savages. With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stock-broker, can gain a reputation for being civilized.”

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