Possession by A.S. Byatt

My purpose here in this section for the novel is to further explore Byatt's allusion to Coleridge and why she might have decided to bring Coleridge's Christabel alive once more:

I have first included a link to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's biography. While I often hesitate to read an author's background into their work, a sentiment I think Byatt also supports based off her novel, Coleridge's biography in this case may be useful in trying to figure out why he might not have finished his poem "Christabel."


Next is a link to "Christabel" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge for you to reference in case you are not familiar with it:

In this next link, I have also included a summary of the poem which I think embodies Coleridge's work in case there is a section of his poem you don't understand or if you just prefer to read a summary over the original text:

Now that we know a little about Coleridge and have a basic understanding of "Christabel," let's start to unravel the mystery of why Byatt used Christabel as her poetess. One article which prompted my original interest in this connection is Susan Eileberg's article "'Michael,' 'Christabel' and the Poetry of Possession" (I have also included a JSTOR link to it as well at the end). Eileberg examines how Coleridge's poem is a tale of possession (a word which obviously made me think of Byatt's novel). One of Eileberg's major claims in her article is how Geraldine possesses Christabel in a very Gothic vampiric nature (there is quite a bit of research on vampirism in the Gothic especially related to Coleridge if you are interested). Weak and ailing Geraldine does not get better until innocent Christabel takes her home, and by the end of the poem after the two girls spend a night sharing a bed, Geraldine now speaks for Christabel since she can no longer talk. In a sense, Geraldine replaces Christabel even in the eyes of Christabel's own father. 


Let's relate this back to Byatt. Just like in Coleridge's poem, Byatt's Christabel also has a dependent female friend-Blanche. Coleridge scholars often read the night Christabel and Geraldine spend together in a sexual manner-how Geraldine corrupts the innocent Christabel that night. In Byatt, Christabel scholars also view Christabel's relationship with Blanche as a lesbian, romantic relationship. After skimming through some articles on Gothic vampirism, one major characteristic of these possessing "vampires" is how they have no sense of independent self. In other words, they rely on their victims to gain their sense of identity. For Geraldine, once she gains her Christabel-identity, she becomes the newly-improved Christabel to where she no longer needs the original Christabel. Yet for Blanche, once Christabel no longer needs her because she has R.H. Ash, she commits suicide because she no longer has an identity, no longer exists, without her Christabel. But while there is a stark contrast between Geraldine and Blanche, the Christabels are quite similar. After Blanche dies, Christabel does change. To me, I would go so far as to say she is less powerful without her Blanche next her. So why does Byatt's vampiric, possessing relationship fail to give Blanche power to survive? My own thoughts is because Blanche's Christabel is engaged with another kind of vampiric relationship around the same time of Blanche's suicide (I would have to take a closer look at the timelines). I am not talking about her relationship to Ash. But it is around this time when Christabel gets pregnant, and a baby sucking the life force from its mother is a kind of essential parasitic relationship. So perhaps Christabel did not have enough life force to feed both her baby and Blanche. 

Eileberg, Susan. "'Michael,' 'Christabel' and the Poetry of Possession." Criticism, vol. 30, no. 2, 1988, pp. 205-24.

Here is a JSTOR article link:

And finally, in case you are interested in this Christabel-Blanche relationship, I have also included an article about Neo-Victorianism and Feminism. Since Christabel LaMotte scholars are primarily feminists/in the Women's Studies field, it seems only natural that we are readers may also view their relationship in the eyes of a feminist.

MacDonald, Tara, and Joyce Goggin. "Introduction: Neo-Victorianism and Feminism." Neo-Victorian Studies, vol. 6, no. 2,

     2013, pp. 1-14.

Here is the link:

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Grace Marks' trial was significant partly because she was a woman. How could a woman kill not just a man, but an upperclassman? How could a female worker kill her male master? While Grace was tried in 1843, let's fast forward about 50 years to the year 1892 when another significant trial took place - the trial of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream. Now what was interesting about this trial? Not only was he a serial killer, but he was a serial killing DOCTOR. In contrast to Grace, it is now a well-educated and well-respected man killing fallen women. To add, he was a doctor, a man who swore to heal and save lives instead of taking them. So, if you will indulge me, let's examine the trials of two Victorian murderers in order to see just how class and gender may have taken part (and by "may have," I mean that it absolutely did take part) in the end results.

Here is Grace Marks' page on Murderpedia:

Here I have a link to Dr. Thomas Neill Cream's page on Murderpedia where it does go into his life, his crimes, and also various pictures:

The other source I gained information from about Dr. Neill Cream is an article written by Paula J. Reiter:









Here is a short, condensed details of Dr. Neill Cream and his crimes:

-his victims were fallen women. For his first round of killings, he targeted women seeking abortions. As Reiter states, "he counted on the silence and shame associated with abortion and was protected by public indifference" (59). (makes a reader think about poor Mary Whitney in the novel...did her doctor kill her on purpose?) There are four known murder victims who sought abortions from him: Flora Eliza Brooks, Kate Hutchinson Gardener, Mary Anne Faulkner, and Ellen Stacks. 

-It wasn't until Dr. Neill Cream killed a man, his only male victim, that suspicions rose against him. It was then he was sentenced to life in prison. However, on July 31, 1891, the governor granted the doctor clemency because he thought him to be an upstanding citizen.

-In October of 1891, he moved to London and proceeded to now murder prostitutes and started blackmailing not only the victims' families but also the police (about two months after being released from prison).

-It wasn't until the following April after four prostitutes died that the police launched an investigation.

-In July 1892, Dr. Neill Cream was officially charged with one account of murder (more murder charges were added during the trial)

-His trial date: October 17, 1892 (a little over a year after he was granted clemency) 

-The largest piece of evidence used against Dr. Neill Cream was a testimony given by a prostitute.

-He hanged on November 15, 1892.

-One reason why this trial was so significant is because it was the word of a prostitute, a fallen woman with no respect from society, sentenced a doctor to die. Not only did this case help (somewhat) raise the status of fallen women/ not just disregarding what they say, this case also started police reformation as many investigations were launched to see why Dr. Neill Cream was not caught sooner, why were some of his murders not properly investigated?

Now compare this trial to that of Grace Marks. It was hard to think of a woman, a servant woman, of killing her upperclassman master in a similar way it was hard to think of how a doctor, a well-respected professional, could kill all those women when he was sworn to heal. Can Dr. Jordan take Grace's word, the word of a murderess, the word of a fallen woman, that she had no memory of the crime? Could the judge during Dr. Neill Cream's trial trust the word of a streetwalker to condemn a doctor to hang? Why is it that Dr. Neill Cream received clemency for his crimes when poor McDermott was sentenced to hang even though he did not kill nearly as many people as the good doctor did? It's because a doctor is a higher class than a servant. Yes, Grace was spared a death sentence last minute, but why was she in prison longer than Dr. Neill Cream during his first imprisonment? Is it because she killed an upperclassman and not just a fallen woman (though arguably she did kill a fallen woman too if you consider Nancy...though Nancy's murder never went to trial...(perhaps because of her status?))? No matter how you look at it, it appears that class and gender definitely played its part in both the trial of Grace Marks and the trial of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream.

A side note to the Dr. Thomas Neill Cream case: As I mention in my blog post, human beings are curious creatures. One of the most mysterious "events"/phrase happens at the time when the good doctor is about to be hanged. As he has the noose around his neck, and as they were putting the bag over his head, it is rumoured that he mummers, "I am Jack the..." and then his sentence was cut off by Death. Many scholars/detectives have made a case that he was admitting to being Jack the Ripper (for he was a major killer during the same time period as Dr. Neill Cream and they also shared the same target population). Going back to the novel, McDermott also says a cliffhanger of a line before he dies. Was Grace really his paramour? There is something mysterious about unfinished sentences in the face of death. Were these two men really confessing the truth? Did they just want to be remembered?

Here is link to a page about Jack the Ripper scholarship (because our culture is obsessed with murderers) in case you are interested to see how Dr. Neill Cream could have been Jack the Ripper despite the fact he was in jail during the Ripper's killing spree:


Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

In my main blog post about this novel, I examine George's decision to use an umbrella as an Englishman appearance booster. However, during my research about Victorian umbrellas, I discovered another usage for umbrellas besides blocking rain and the sun, a potential parachute, and the extremely useful quality of breaking house windows. As it turns out, umbrellas were also used as defensive weapons. The articles I found about the Victorian weaponizing of umbrellas are primarily instances of women using them as defense, but that doesn't rule out men also viewing umbrellas as dangerous. This notion of the dangers of umbrellas also made me think of George. As I mentioned in my blog post, the umbrella failed to grant George the status of an EnglishMAN, and that George really resembles the actual umbrella rather than a proper Englishman. So let's consider this: If George is a Victorian umbrella, that awkward appendage the English don't know how to handle, then perhaps he is also viewed as dangerous by his peers. There is no hiding that racial prejudice took part of his trial, and often different physical appearances scare those who resemble each other. In this sense, George is dangerous just because he looks different than the rest. Therefore, by George wielding an umbrella despite no forecasted rain, he essentially shows how he can be dangerous. To sum up both my blog post and my current ranting, George's umbrella not only fails to make him appear as English, mocks his masculinity, but it also makes him appear as a potential threat to society.

So, without further delay, here are examples of umbrellas being used as defensive weapons:


 (link for both pictures. The site also has other useful                                                                                              umbrella-as-defense fun facts.)

Here is a link to more Victorian defensive umbrellas:




                                                                                                            As I was trying to find a good video to share with you about Victorian                                                                                                                 umbrella uses, I stumbled upon something a tad bit more interesting.                                                                                                              It turns out that umbrellas are STILL USED as defensive weapons.                                                                                                                      There is a special umbrella made called the "Security Umbrella,"                                                                                                                        which is a bit more sturdy than a typical umbrella. So it felt only natural                                                                                                              to include a modern take on umbrella defenses.


Naturally when I think of umbrellas as weapons, I think of the movie Kingsman. Having read more about umbrella history, I find it utterly fascinating how this movie uses umbrellas. Remember that umbrellas were not viewed well at first- they were accidently harming bystanders, turned inside out in wind, people would never return a borrowed umbrella. But this movie makes the umbrella respectable. The Kingsmen are thee epitome of high class gentlemen: tailored suits, sharp glasses, concerned about manners. Most importantly, they work for the country. Therefore, they represent the way the country should be. And the weapon of choice- an umbrella. So perhaps George was just ahead of his time. He saw the awesomeness of the umbrella as a status holder before it was cool.

*WARNING: video contains violent content*

Seeing how I focus on George and his "Englishness," it's only fitting if I also include an article which looks at the so-called evolution of the national identity known as "Englishness." In this article, the author discusses the hazards of the pre-conceived notions of national identity- how these pre-programmed ideas omit any details which do not belong in the ideal. Here is the link to that article:

And finally, during my search in trying to find a dignified "English" picture of Sir Arthur, I found this website which pictures all the newspaper articles he published in George's defense. In his novel, Barnes only includes the details on how Sir Arthur got the details for his articles, but he doesn't actually provide a reading of said articles. In fact, the only newspaper article he includes is George's pardon. So for those curious, here is that website:

Poor Things by Alasdair Gray

While my main blog post focuses on Bella's experiments as a sexual awakening of sorts, I think I would do her a disservice to only look at her through this particular lens. I do still stand that her candle experiment does ignite her sexuality, but I want to now focus on Bella Baxter through Gray's commentary on/interaction with Mary Shelley's Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Of course there are several potential reasons why Gray has Bella/Victoria have two names:

1. Already in class we have suggested that Bella stands for Scotland- Gray's beautiful Scotland. It is important to note, however, that she is referred to as Victoria outside of McCandless' book, not Bella. In the introduction as well as the letter included at the end of the novel, Bella is Victoria. My question is why. If Bella is Scotland, then I would say Victoria is England (not much of a stretch since this is a Neo-Victorian class). If I enjoyed geography and national histories, I'm sure there is a reason Gray refers to his woman character as Scotland in a particular scene compared to why he refers to her as England (which would be mainly outside of McCandless' novel). However, I do not particularly enjoy geography, so I shall include a link detailing the history between the two countries:

In case you don't want to read the history, I have also found political comics which seems to sum up the relationship/history:


political comic.jpg

2. I am more inclined to consider Bella having another name of Victoria as Gray's way of making her Mary Shelley's Dr. Victor Frankenstein. The name Victoria would indeed be a feminine version of Victor and she is later referred to as Dr. Vic. She too is a doctor after all, and if you consider her candle experiment, she is a scientist.

Some questions to consider:

  • Why would Gray make the monster (the created being from the dead) the scientist? 

  • Is it possible that maybe Gray is suggesting that scientists are monsters? Godwin himself proclaims how he won't perform certain operations such as organ transplants. In a sense, Godwin fears the God-like powers doctors can behold. Perhaps Gray, too, is cautious of those powers?

  • Shelley's Frankenstein also has another title, The Modern Prometheus (in other words, it has two names just like Bella/Victoria). Like one might compare Dr. Frankenstein to Prometheus, how does Bella/Victoria compare to Prometheus? If I had to answer this question, I would suggest that she is a feminist Prometheus, bringing with her forbidden female sexuality and the knowledge of contraceptives.                                                                                                                                       Here is a Wikipedia page over Prometheus:

  • If Bella is the mad scientist (possibly hinted at even more when her first husband Blessington calls her mad/insane), is it possible that McCandless is her "monster?" Dr. Frankenstein only refers to his creation as monster or creature (if I remember correctly), and I don't recall Bella ever referring to McCandless as anything other than "candle." Like Frankenstein, she objectifies her candle while her other men keep their names. Why objectify McCandless in this way? Plus, if we continue my main blog point, he is her first experiment after all. Perhaps that has some reason why he becomes an object?

I did find an article written by Lissette Lopez Szwydky and Michelle L. Pribbernow which looks at movie depictions of a female Dr. Frankenstein. In their article "Women Scientists in Frankenstein films, 1945-2015," they examine how females are often depicted in reference to Frankenstein, whether just a lab worker or the scientist performing the reanimation. While they do focus on films, I think their discoveries translates well into looking at Bella/Victoria in Gray's novel. Here are a couple key points to the article:

-“A woman scientist not only threatened the boundaries between life and death or human and animal (as her male counterpart did), but also the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour of women” (Szwydky and Pribbernow 307). As stated numerous times now, Bella does push the boundaries of acceptable behaviors through her sexually, so why not push the limits even more by being the secret mad scientist?

-the article also suggests that women in the lab setting are often sexualized. In most cases, she is a lab assistant and either falls for Dr. Frankenstein or the monster, or is sexually abused by other lab assistants. In Gray's novel, the lab is also a sexual place. We see Bella in the lab once when she takes her candle there. It is in this instance where McCandless is certain she will walk up behind him naked. However, much to his surprise, she instead chloroforms him. Perhaps this is a way Gray is giving women power in the lab setting?

Here is a link to that article:


The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

As I mentioned in my blog post, Sugar "unrefines" both Agnes and Sophie as a way to free the Angels in the Rackham house. In a way, I argued how Sugar's autonomy as a prostitute became the catalyst for these women to escape the house since prostitution is in direct violation of the patriarchy's idealism of the submission woman during this time period. Fleeing the house, and William, therefore, is the women reverting back to their natural state of empowerment that has been unhindered by society's refinement process of women. While we can see this through just a basic reading of the novel, how all three angels leave the house (freed by an outside angel since Agnes recognizes Sugar as an angel from her Convent), Faber also depicts this patriarchal refinement process through a much more subtle detail that I would have missed if not for a sentence towards the end of the novel; This small little detail Faber includes is lavender. 

If you remember my presentation, I examined possible connections between Sugar and lavender. For me, I was quite intrigued why Sugar loved being in the lavender fields, how she always bathed in lavender. I also loved that the word lavender comes from the Latin verb meaning "to wash." I obviously connected lavender to washing considering my slight obsession with Sugar bathing and her refinement process. However, now that I have finished the novel, I see how lavender is not a symbol of luxury. It is instead a source of repression (which I know sounds counter-intuitive since lavender was Queen Victoria's flower. How could the Queen's flower be a symbol of repression when the queen is supposed to represent power?) 


Things to consider about Faber's usage of lavender and the Victorian patriarchy (remember how William even puts his face on his lavender bottles he sells-literally putting a male face on the product):

- Sugar does not use lavender before she meets William. We know Sugar makes good money considering her popularity, so it does not seem to be out of the question that she didn't use lavender because she could not afford it. Instead, she does not wear lavender because as a prostitute, she is not confined to the rules of society.


- It is when Sugar becomes William's mistress (which in my analysis, William represents the patriarchy) that she starts using lavender. This is really seen in Part 3 during Sugar's societal refinement and submission as she bathes away her freedom.

- After constantly bathing in lavender, it makes sense why she feels at home in William's lavender fields. She is in a lavender dress. She probably constantly smells like lavender. She is, then, lavender. She is merely another flower controlled by William. Instead of seeing Sugar's love for the Queen's flower as a symbol of power, I now consider it a symbol of submission.

- Agnes, once she re-enters the patriarchal society in the Season, also mentions lavender water several times.


- Little Sophie bathes in lavender just like Sugar. 

So where am I going with this? Let me share with you the quote which inspired my reading of lavender and the patriarchy, and then perhaps you will also agree with me. This is during the scene William goes to Caroline in attempts to find Sugar and Sophie and after mentally vowing to bring Sophie back into his household: "Next to pass is a grisly female phantasm, a naked corpse of white flesh much disfigured with crimson gashes and lavender bruises. Her chest gapes open, revealing a palpitating heart between her full breasts, and she dances gracefully on the smutty cobblestones. Though his eyes are still shut, William turns his face away and buries it in the soft shoulder beside his cheek" (Faber 893).

It wasn't until Faber wrote "lavender bruises" that I even considered lavender as a harmful detail. Indulge me as I break down this significant quote.

- As I have several times, beginning of Part 3 is when Sugar soaks in lavender constantly. In this sense, Sugar is marinating in patriarchy during this refinement. Right now, in this part of the novel, the influence of patriarchy over Sugar is invisible, for one cannot see a smell. 

- At the end of Part 3, we see Sugar in lavender in the lavender fields. Here, then, we can see how patriarchy is slowly taking a hold of Sugar's body. It is not one with her body since she can always take off her dress, but it is now visibly present on Sugar. This is also the moment where her freedom as a mistress ends as she starts her journey as a governess in the next part.

- Part 4 (which I think of as Agnes' Part) starts the chain of lavender bruising. It is in this part where Agnes mutilates her feet with a shovel, which I am sure caused severe lavender bruising as well as crimson blood.

Part 5 is where we start to see the damages through the description of lavender.

- William is robbed and is severely beaten up; He is lavender bruised.

- Sugar is pregnant, and in attempt to cease being pregnant, she throws herself off the stairs. She too, then, is now lavender bruised. This time, though, Sugar cannot take off this lavender like her dress.

- Then Sugar takes her final Rackham refinement bath with lavender. This is a crucial scene. Faber writes, "Every now and then she looks down, fearing what she might see, but there's a reassuring film of suds that disguises the pinkish tinge of the water, and any clots of blood have either sunk to the bottom or are hidden inside the froth. Her injured foot is very swollen, she knows, but it's invisible to her, and she fancies it hurts less than it out to. her cracked ribs (she strokes a lathered pal over them) are almost healed, the bruises vivid" (843). Here, the image of Agnes pops to mind. Sugar, like Agnes, has an injured foot in combination of blood.

So what do we make of the female phantasm William sees? He sees a woman both lavender bruised and crimson, two colors now associated with Agnes and Sugar. Yet it is only when his eyes are closed that he sees a physically-harmed woman. When his eyes are opened, however, he is once again blind to the harm of women in a patriarchy. He did not see how his Angels were hurting under his own roof; It is only after the Angels are gone that he sees them hurting.