A Critique of Victorian Ideas of Progress in Neo-Victorian Gothic Literature

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1949 Words
Date:  2022-04-29


The Victorian era in Britain's history was an age of world political dominance in which the country colonized vast swathes of land in the world, giving rise to such views as 'the sun never sets in Britain'. Literature with a Victorian bend tends to involve monarchical aspects whether the royal family is directly involved or characters interact with an environment with heavy influence from government policies. According to Kate Mitchell (2010), Victorian gothic novels have a characteristic sensational nature, employing the power of common beliefs to shape the readers' response to stories. Literature in the Victorian era played a critical role in shaping public opinion on various matters such as a knowledge of the world. For example, the perception of distant civilizations being perceived as uncivilized and primitive was borne largely out of the efforts of authors in trying to compare the ways of life of these civilizations with the cultured way of life for the British.

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Victorian literature continued even after the end of the Victorian era with historical fictional works known as Ne-Victorian Gothic literature. Neo-Victorian fiction seeks to revisit the Victorian era by reinterpreting the fiction of that age or by generally writing about issues in the Victorian era in the form of historical fictionAt its core, Victorian literature, whether it be in the old times or the modernist one, seeks to define what it means to be English. It tends to glorify English values and principles or to whittle down the brilliance of other cultures in relation. Neo-Victorian novels tend to revive the interest of the public in the history, literature, and art of Britain in the Victorian era. Neo-Victorian Gothic literature takes on several forms as described by Victor Olaro (2015), including historical fiction, pastiche and parody, transposition of Victorian ideas, subverting norms of fiction writing used in the Victorian era, redoing Victorian era masterpieces, and research novels that acknowledges the colossal role the study of Victorian literature has on modern academic life.

All the Neo-Victorian novels indicate the interest of writers and readers to examine concepts that emerged from the Victorian age from a new angle. Kate Mitchell (2010) argues that while Neo-Victorian novels seek to demonstrate how fiction lays claim to the past as well as portraying this historical knowledge to the reader. Most importantly, however, Neo-Victorian novels critique the ideologies held in that era by examining them in their context with the benefit of hindsight that comes from decades of experiencing the ways of life espoused during that time. Therefore, Neo-Victorian gothic literature doubles as an evaluation of that era and a reminder of the dynamic nature of societies, which is achieved by contrasting beliefs then and now to indicate the remarkable changes that have taken place.

In this essay, we shall examine ways in which Neo-Victorian gothic literature interacts with the Victorian ideas of progress and the role these novels play in upholding these values in the modern times. To do so, the essay shall examine a few Neo-Victorian novels, including Patrick McGrath's "The Black Hand of the Raj", Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea", and there are other meanings: Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald". These three works of fiction cover contemporary issues of the Victorian era, including the plight of women in a patriarchal society, feminism in "Wide Sargasso Sea", law and order as well as sensational crime in "A Study in Emerald", and service to the country in "The Black Hand of the Raj". These works are also interspaced with issues on sexual and inter-gender relations, especially the sexual behaviors that were (and still are) considered as taboo in the award-winning short story "The Black Hand of the Raj".

A Study in Emerald is a detective thriller novel that employs elements of Sherlock Holmes' crime-fighting skills in a murder of a guest of the English monarch from Germany. The plot, other than starring a detective consultant with somewhat ambivalent crime detection skills, hints at resistance to the monarchy from some sections of the population -the people who gutted the German Prince Franz Drago of Bohemia. At the same time, 'A Study in Emerald' is an admonishment to those who resist the dominion of her majesty. However, according to Maria Alberto (2014), the story also contains several misnomers that seek to twist it away from Doyle's narrative structure regarding the characters Holmes and Moriarty. Rather than follow the Sherlock Holmes precedent of Holmes as the hero and Moriarty the villain, Gaiman reverses their roles, although the reversal is not evident at first reading. Furthermore, the narrator avoids mentioning wither his name or the name of his crime-fighting roommate who is only identified as 'friend.'

Ideas espoused in the short story "A Study in Emerald" include the power of the monarch, colonialism, resistance to bad leadership, and the new world. The monarch is portrayed as a benevolent government that illuminates the way for the masses, without which the populace would be in darkness. In relating his findings to Inspector Lestrade, the consulting detective mentions that the restorationists (a group of radicals working towards overthrowing the monarchical government) "kill, in a vain effort to force our masters to leave us alone in the darkness." The consulting detective mentions that the coming of the Old Ones, of whom the queen and the murdered prince are members, was a fine thing acknowledged by everyone. This somewhat sycophantic support for the Old Ones can either be perceived as a tongue-in-cheek critique of the British monarch or genuine support. Either way, the 'Friend' works tirelessly to find the murderers of the Prince at the behest of the big, many-limbed queen.

As a Victorian text, the story could be perceived as being a pro-monarchy piece of literature whose meaning can be taken literally without fudging with the author's intentions of writing it. However, the short story, as a Neo-Victorian gothic story, comes at a time when the queen and the monarch is occupying a position of lessening influence over England. Therefore, in relation to the monarch, the idea of progress espoused in this story could be that the monarch is no longer as important to Britain as it was before. To further this argument, notice that the 'Friend' did not employ his incredible powers of deduction to catch the murderers of the Queen's nephew. He literally let them get away with assassinating a throne prince.

In a somewhat contrary idea to the one discussed above, the Major, the detective consultant's companion and also a retired soldier in her majesty's army, receives healing by the power of the queen. At the start of the novel, the Major's hand is wounded with a frog-white injury inflicted in Afghanistan. After the meeting with the queen and her touching it, he feels tremendous pain followed by "a pervasive sense of wellbeing" after which all the pain leaves his hand and a pinkish hue forms, indicating healing. The idea of the monarchy espoused in "A Study in Emerald" is not just one of a socially superior family with the right to rule the earth externally. It is one where they are of an entirely different anatomical form, with more limbs, a different blood color, a unique positioning of the face, and they possess powers to heal.

The idea behind this unique concept of leaders is that leaders influence the destiny of humanity in a great way. The queen heals and eases the pain of her subjects (the Major), representing the benevolent leaders of the world, while the prince was lured to the room where he was murdered by the promise of an abducted virgin for his carnal pleasure. He represents the idea of bad leaders who cause pain and suffering, and the fact that his murderers get away with their heinous crime can be perceived as the writer's endorsement of their actions.

Another idea that runs deep in the story is that of British imperialism. The Britons in the Victorian era believed that their destiny was to spread their culture to all peoples of the earth, colonizing the primitive Afghan cave-folk under whom the Major sustained his shoulder injury through torture. The author addresses this idea by highlighting the mental torture the soldiers who took part in these lofty conquests suffered. The Major was thrown out of his previous lodgings in London, he lost his marksmanship, and he screams in his sleep. Of the great economic proceeds the monarch earned from their imperialist pursuits, the story makes no mention. The effect, therefore, is that the reader is likely to be unfavorably disposed to imperialism after reading "A Study in Emerald". Written in the current age as though it was written during the Victorian era, the story uses the benefit of hindsight to show that imperialism ultimately meets defeat and decline and that the pursuit of the same was an exercise in futility.

"A Study in Futility" is a story about the hunt for a band of radicals opposed to the rule of the Old Ones. Their objection to the rule of the Old Ones is their proclivity to feast on the madness of the common people as the prince had intended to do on the night he met his grisly death. Vernet, the self-appointed executioner of these parasitic leaders, says that it is "too great a price to pay" for peace and prosperity. The story addresses the idea of bad leadership at the crime scene when Inspector Lestrade explains the identity of the murder victim as "Prince Franz Drago of Bohemia ...here for a holiday and change of air..." The detective replies; "...the whores and the gaming tables, you mean." This is a stinging criticism of Victorian-era ideas on progressive leadership that often involved extravagant lifestyles at the expense of the people.

The idea of bad leadership could have been lost in another issue in this story had it not been for the dramatic ending to the narration, in which the detective consultant all but lets the murderers escape. In fact, his last act is to order the burning of the note from Vernet. Therefore, as a piece of Neo-Victorian gothic literature, the story critiques the idea that the monarch is never wrong and seems to endorse armed resistance to agitate for non-oppressive regimes. The purpose of this criticism is to show that people need not bow to the oppression. Enforcing this purpose is that the villains of the story (whose 'only' crime is to assassinate a vain, pain-feasting prince) escape justice!

Other ideas espoused in this Neo-Victorian gothic story include that of service to the country, with both the Major and his friend being former soldiers in her majesty's army. This common background acts as a bond between them, and it is because of this that the detective consultant says; "we have fought the good fight, side by side... I knew I trusted you as well as I do myself..." According to Kate Mitchell (2010), service to the country was a valued philosophy of the Victorian era. Gaiman reemphasizes this concept by showing the camaraderie that develops between the two heroes in the story based on their common service. The Major also has his injuries from the war healed on the visit to the queen and will soon return to being the crack shot he was before his torture in war.

We cannot cover progressive ideas of the Victorian era without mentioning the shift from the religious dominion of world politics to secular governments. In the last play at the theatre, a village has to choose between the Roman God priest and the Old Ones approaching their settlement. In the end, the hero kills the priest and welcomes the Old Ones who include all major rulers of the world at the time, includ...

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A Critique of Victorian Ideas of Progress in Neo-Victorian Gothic Literature. (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/a-critique-of-victorian-ideas-of-progress-in-neo-victorian-gothic-literature

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