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Labyrinths of Deceit

Labyrinths of Deceit: Culture, Modernity and Identity in the Nineteenth Century

Richard J. Walker
Volume: 44
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Labyrinths of Deceit
    Book Description:

    Prominent citizens in nineteenth-century England believed themselves to be living in a time of unstoppable progress. Yet running just beneath Victorian triumphalism were strong undercurrents of chaos and uncertainty. Richard Walker plumbs the depths of those currents in order to present an alternative history of nineteenth-century society. Mining literary and philosophical works of the period, Walker explores the crisis of identity that beset nineteenth-century thinkers and how that crisis revealed itself in portrayals of addiction, split personalities, and religious mania. Victorian England will never look the same.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-540-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Tracing the fragments of modernity
    (pp. 1-26)

    What is it like to be in a state of crisis? To be more specific what is it like to be in a state of crisis in the nineteenth century? The aim of this book is to explore such a condition and to ask, as a significant subclause: what is it like to be modern in the nineteenth century? This interaction between crisis and modernity is not a randomly chosen connection. Isobel Armstrong, in her radical rethinking of the political and subversive elements of Victorian poetry, states that ‘Victorian modernism, as it emerges in its poetics, describes itself as belonging...

  2. Part I (De)Generating doubles:: duality and the split personality in the prose writing of James Hogg, Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde

    • Introduction
      (pp. 29-48)

      In his treatise of 1844,The Duality of the Mind, the physician A. L. Wigan determined to demonstrate that the human brain consisted of two distinct cerebra, each of which was manifestly capable of being in conflict with the other within the individual. Wigan subtitled his work ‘A new view of insanity … proved by the structure, functions, and diseases of the brain, and by the phenomena of mental derangement, and shown to be essential to moral responsibility’, and aimed to prove that ‘each cerebrum is capable of a distinct and separate volition, and that these are very often opposing...

    • 1 Speaking and answering in the character of another: James Hogg’s private memoirs
      (pp. 49-67)

      In the context of the issues that have been discussed so far James Hogg’sThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinnermay seem an unusual text to choose when the themes and ideas at stake in this project are considered. Neither the first nor the most famous representation of duality in fiction – the latter accolade must surely go to Stevenson’sJekyll and Hyde, a text which in its title alone has become virtually synonymous with populist accounts of schizophrenia – Hogg’s strange and idiosyncratic novel initially seems very removed from the debates regarding modernity and identity alluded...

    • 2 He, I say – I cannot say, I: Robert Louis Stevenson’s strange case
      (pp. 68-90)

      In an attempt both to celebrate and contribute to the mythologized folk traditions of Scottish lowland life popularized by such luminaries as Walter Scott and Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, in his unfinished novelWeir of Hermiston, created four brothers known as the ‘Black Elliotts’. Ironically, in a novel where Stevenson aimed to engage with psychology, culture and historicity with greater veracity than in his previous fiction, Hob, Gib, Dandie and Clem have a largely symbolic function: they represent the stock virtues of the lowland, agrarian worker of Scotland. In the character of Dandie, Stevenson attempted to evoke the type...

    • 3 The psychopathology of everyday narcissism: Oscar Wilde’s picture
      (pp. 91-116)

      InThe Picture of Dorian Gray, the final seminal representation of duality in nineteenth-century fiction, Oscar Wilde, like Robert Louis Stevenson before him, offers a Gothic vision of London from the perspective of an outsider. Wilde, as an anglicized Irishman, can be regarded as a figure shaped by a radically different social, cultural and religious sensibility to that of Hogg and Stevenson, who at least share a conception of the world informed by avid and inflexible Calvinism. Nonetheless, Wilde’s perspective inDorian Grayprovides instructive points of comparison with the tales of duality offered by the two Scottish writers. As...

  3. Part II The stripping of the halo:: religion and identity in the poetry of Alfred Tennyson, James ‘B. V.’ Thomson and Gerard Manley Hopkins

    • Introduction
      (pp. 119-123)

      In 1810 William Black, London physician and author ofDissertation on Insanitypublished in the same year, tabulated the causes of admission for approximately one third of the patients entered at Bethlem public madhouse. Bethlem, or Bedlam – the popular nomenclature used by Black and a term synonymous with insanity – had originally been founded by the Order of St Mary of Bethlehem in 1247; used for the habilitation of lunatics from 1377 onwards, the hospital had stood at Moorfields in London from 1676. In his table Black listed ‘Religion and Methodism’ as the most popular cause of insanity after...

    • 4 A life of death: Alfred Tennyson’s ‘St Simeon Stylites’
      (pp. 124-136)

      On initial scrutiny Tennyson’s poem ‘St Simeon Stylites’, written in 1833 and published in the second volume ofPoemsof 1842, functions as an example of religious madness made up from self-delusion and an obsessive belief by Simeon in the importance of his own existence.² The poet’s use of a first person monologue seems to present Simeon as an individual who fails to achieve insight into the limited perceptions that constitute his reason for existence; his vision remains destructively self-conscious and self-obsessed. If this is taken into account the poem stands as an examination of fanatical religious zeal, and Simeon,...

    • 5 But what am I? Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam
      (pp. 137-154)

      William Black, in the table of causes of admission to Bethlem madhouse documented inDissertation on Insanitycited at the start of this discussion, notes that the most prominent factor instigating mental illness is ‘Disappointments, Grief’.In Memoriam, a collection of lyrics written between 1833 and 1850 and published anonymously at the end of May in the latter year, is an elegaic response to the death of Tennyson’s closest friend during his Cambridge days, Arthur Henry Hallam, who died on 15 September 1833 in Vienna.² Where ‘St Simeon Stylites’ represents religious turmoil and inner dislocation stemming from a possibility that...

    • 6 All is vanity and nothingness: James ‘B. V.’ Thomson’s haunted city
      (pp. 155-174)

      Where Alfred Tennyson’sIn Memoriaminvolves a return to orthodox faith and the apparently conventional elegaic utterance, thus reclaiming will, sanity and identity in the face of overwhelming doubts, James Thomson’s ‘The City of Dreadful Night’ addresses the loss of faith and will in man, manifest in a poetic voice of thematic and ideological unity which suggests that life is ultimately meaningless and repetitive. Thomson’s poem was first published in four installments in Charles Bradlaugh’sNational Reformer, between 22 March and 17 May of 1874.² This weekly newspaper, first emerging in the April of 1860, had made clear its manifesto...

    • 7 Dead letters: Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘Terrible Sonnets’
      (pp. 175-190)

      Tennyson’s dramatic monologue, ‘St Simeon Stylites’, implies an identifiable audience to whom the eponymous anchorite periodically appeals; in Simeon’s case the dramatically involved but emphatically silent addressee for the monologist can be defined at various stages as the divine (God) or human (the crowd that flocks at the base of the pillar). In each case the silence of the audience has a dramatic logic: God’s silence is symptomatic of the division between natural and supernatural and of the traditional inscrutability of the divine, whereas the audience’s is the result of the more conventional distancing device of height, Simeon’s physical elevation...

  4. Part III Infected ecstasy:: addiction and modernity in the work of Thomas De Quincey, Alfred Tennyson, Christina Rossetti and Bram Stoker

    • Introduction
      (pp. 193-202)

      Addiction manifests itself in a variety of forms in social, cultural and medical conceptions of deviancy or antisocial behaviour during the nineteenth century: drug addiction, alcoholism, compulsive criminal behaviour, addictive sexual masturbation, even cannibalism, can all be cited as examples.³ According to William Black’s assessment of the most frequent causes of admission to Bedlam the category ‘Drink and Intoxication’ constitutes the seventh (out of sixteen classifications) highest catalyst for insanity, represented by fifty-eight cases in the hospital.⁴ Intoxication is, obviously, a reference to the results of excessive indulgence in alcohol and drugs, suggesting in both cases overconsumption or addiction.⁵ Curiously...

    • 8 A change in physical economy: Thomas De Quincey’s confession
      (pp. 203-225)

      In his singular account of addiction,Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Thomas De Quincey – journalist, essayist, contributor toBlackwood’s Magazine, budding political economist, friend of the Lake Poets, and opium userpar excellence– indicates that 1813 is the year that marks his descent into opium addiction, and the ensuing physical change that takes place within his body.² The condition suggested is one wherein opium consumption seems to become as essential, even as natural, to him as respiration and circulation. Apart from the fact that it heralds De Quincey’s daily dependence on the drug and the hallucinatory mania...

    • 9 Coming like ghosts to trouble joy: Alfred Tennyson’s ‘The Lotos Eaters’
      (pp. 226-242)

      Alfred Tennyson’s ‘The Lotos Eaters’ is, given its limitations in terms of length, apparently a less fruitful source for representations of addiction – if indeed it can be read as such – than De Quincey’sConfessions.² Nonetheless, despite being a poem inspired by Homer’sOdyssey( a text which actually plays a significant if not explicit role, certainly in terms of cultural location, in this work), it raises a series of issues that place the previous analysis of De Quincey into perspective, and which contribute significantly to a debate about addiction and the networks that circulate around it in the...

    • 10 Like honey to the throat but poison to the blood: Christina Rossetti’s addictive market
      (pp. 243-255)

      Much recent criticism of Christina Rossetti’s poetry has tended to rely upon biographical material to support readings of her work. Her devotional verse in particular, with its themes of renunciation and self-sacrifice balanced by the articulation of frustration and inward tension, seems to lend itself to biographical interpretations. The details of her life – taking into consideration her association with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, her aborted engagements, and her acute, even masochistic religious faith, which seems to have accounted for her apparently frustrated love life – do indeed provide a provocative insight into her distinctive poetic practice.² In addition the internal...

    • 11 The blood is the life: Bram Stoker’s infected capital
      (pp. 256-283)

      In a letter to her son, written around 1875, Charlotte Stoker provided a first–hand account of the cholera outbreak that took place in Sligo, Ireland, in 1832.² Taking into consideration the concentration upon contagious diseases from the 1860s onwards in British medical and social concerns, Stoker’s mother’s words draw together a series of issues that are intrinsic to this discussion, namely, the dangers of disease, opium treatment and the possibility that the supposed dead could still be animate. It is perhaps appropriate that, in a project that has been so firmly rooted in an attempt to address representations of...

  5. Conclusion: Ghost-script
    (pp. 284-292)

    It is somehow appropriate that this book should close with a discussion of the vampire, for its shadowy, vaporous and shifting presence draws together and metaphorises many of the issues which have been significant throughout it. If my initial premise has been to explore the nature of identity for the individual within nineteenth-century modernity through its representation in a variety of different cultural texts and intertexts, what thencanbe said about the state of identity in the nineteenth century? As should be clear by now, identity, certainly in terms of its representation in the works scrutinized here, can be...