“Life, about change”: symbolism and money in Ali Smith’s Hotel World’

People go past. They don’t see Else, or decide not to.
Ali Smith, Hotel World, p. 39.

From ‘[t]wo ten pence pieces’ and ‘a handful of coppers’ to ‘the five pound note’, Ali Smith’s Hotel World (2001) is a novel that is strewn with money; indeed, the language of ‘capital, transaction, and accumulation’ that pervades every interaction between her characters reflects the contemporary status of capitalism as the dominant world order.[i] It is a world order that was anticipated by Francis Fukuyama who, after witnessing the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, proclaimed that the ‘end of history’ was at hand:

‘the [twentieth] century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an “end of ideology” or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism’.[ii]

Unlike Fukuyama, who revels in the ‘ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy’, Smith rejects capitalism as an inherently oppressive system that repeatedly disenfranchises the poor. Her criticism echoes Jacques Derrida’s own disavowal of contemporary capitalism in Specters of Marx (1994):

‘it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy […] never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity’.[iii]

Specters presents a theory of ethics that demands a ‘certain responsibility and answerability’ from society in response to the injustices of capitalism; in Hotel World, Smith repeats this demand.[iv] Indeed, the novel begins with a testimony from the ghost of Sara Wilby, who returns from beyond the grave with an urgent ‘message for you’ (‘[y]ou. Yes, you. It’s you I’m talking to’), insisting that the reader pay attention and ‘[l]isten’ (pp. 30-31). As Smith exposes the violence of a system that is built on the exploitation of labour, the reader, in turn, is asked to bear witness to the harsh reality of these injustices.

Yet if, as Esther Peeren argues, the ‘ghostly system of capitalist production […] renders labor and its value invisible’ by ‘mak[ing] workers converge with their labor’, then how can it be possible to bear witness to the ‘invisible’ iniquity and oppression of a ‘ghostly’ system?[v] For example, the current alarming rise in homelessness is a result of the inequalities inherent within capitalism, a connection that Smith makes explicit in the novel through the headlines on the newspaper pages that Else, a homeless girl, wraps around her feet for extra insulation; the headlines read, ‘BRITAIN MASSIVELY MORE UNEQUAL THAN 20 YEARS AGO. ONE IN FIVE PEOPLE LIVES BELOW BREADLINE’ (p. 45). As Peeren identifies, however, the victims of these social injustices often ‘resemble dispossessed ghosts in that they are ignored and considered expendable’; indeed, passers-by ignore Else on the street, not seeing her, or ‘decid[ing] not to’, as she is made invisible by the dispossessing system of capitalism that marginalises her suffering (p. 39).[vi] How, then, does one act ethically and bear witness to the spectral?

Using Derrida’s concept of conjuration as a theoretical framework, I argue that Smith finds the answer to this paradox of bearing witness to the spectral through money; she commodifies the body and pathologizes money through the abject in order to conjure the exploitation of labour under capitalism. Thus, Smith ultimately causes the ‘magical spell’ of capitalism ‘to be undone and the reality of exploitation to be revealed’.[vii]

In Hotel World, Smith converges the human working body with the corporate ‘body’ of the Global Hotel. Whilst remembering the events surrounding her death, Sara’s ghost states that she had been working as a maid on the top floor of the hotel, which:

‘used to be the servants’ quarters two hundred years ago when the house had servants in it, and after that the house was a brothel and up there was where the cheap girls […] were put to sell their wares (p. 6).

Through the history of the corporate hotel, Smith creates a continuity of human labour that demonstrates how the worker’s body has been commodified under capitalism. It is from this top floor of the hotel that Sara then falls to her death in the dumb waiter. The reoccurring image of the long, vertical shaft of the dumb waiter is repeatedly associated with the human body: Penny, a guest, is ‘appalled’ by the dark ‘nothing’ of the shaft that ‘[runs] the length’ of the hotel ‘like a spine’ (p. 145) ; Else imagines a wall ‘made of phlegm’ inside her that ‘goes from her abdomen to her throat’ and mirrors the ‘hotel wall’ against which she rests her back (p. 40); Lise, the receptionist who worked at the Global Hotel before her illness, describes her bodily illness as a fall, ‘as if she had been upended over the wall of a well’ and ‘had been falling in the same monotonous nothing way for weeks’ (p. 84). By conflating the corporate ‘body’ of the hotel with the human body, Smith then pathologizes capitalism, specifically through money.

The material body of money, as Derrida asserts, provides the means through which to reify the abstract system of capitalism; it conjures the specter. Derrida defines the act of conjuration as that which ‘makes come’ what ‘is not there at the present moment of the appeal’.[viii] To conjure, then, is to make visible that which was previously there but invisible. Money, described by Derrida as the ‘[a]pparition of the bodiless body’ of capitalism, can therefore be understood as fulfilling this role of conjuration; its material form provides a ‘body’ for the otherwise ‘bodiless body’ of capitalism to manifest itself. Thus, money in its material form reifies the specter of capitalism, conjuring what was abstract and invisible into a real and visible form.

In Hotel World, Smith pathologizes capitalism by constructing money as waste. She continuously divests coins of their monetary value: a copper coin ‘tastes like meat gone off’ (p. 38); a homeless woman’s coins are ‘piled like a mistake, like rubbish’ by her side (p. 67); and the hotel receptionist carries a ‘wastepaper basket full of small change’ (p. 113). More specifically, money is routinely compared to bodily waste. After putting some coins into her mouth and spitting them back out, Else describes them as looking like ‘shining sick’; similarly, the taste of the catarrh that she frequently coughs up also reminds her of the ‘taste of money’, ‘always lurking at the back of her throat’ (pp. 37-38). As forms of bodily waste (‘sick’, ‘catarrh’), money is abjected, cast off and purged by the human body. In her essay, Powers of Horror (1980), Julia Kristeva discusses the abject, and the state of abjection. She describes the ‘spasms and vomiting’, the ‘repugnance’ and ‘the retching’ that turn her away from ‘body fluids’, ‘defilement’, and ‘shit’, all of which she categorises as the abject; it is ‘not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection’, Kristeva states, ‘but what disturbs identity, system, order’.[ix] By constructing money as bodily waste to be purged and rejected by the human body, Smith pathologizes capitalism through the abject. She suggests that capitalism is not an abstract or spectral economic system, but something violent and threatening that ‘disturbs’ by dispossessing the poor and the vulnerable through systemic oppression.

The language of money that structures every aspect of the novel reflects the contemporary culture of consumerism and commodification. As Catherine Belsey identifies, however, there is one aspect of the human experience that resists commodification:

‘[t]o the degree that [the] postmodern condition implies an unbridled consumerism, the cultural logic of late capitalism, pleasure for cash and a product to gratify every possible impulse – if not, indeed, to construct the impulse in the first place – love is a value that remains beyond the market.[x]

For Smith, the human emotion of love serves as an antidote to the violence of capitalism. Indeed, when Sara’s ghost proclaims that ‘[l]ife’ is ‘about change’, change refers to money, but also recognises the potential for a transformation that, for Smith, is motivated by human love that ‘cannot be bought’.[xi] Whilst sat begging for money outside the Global Hotel, Else remembers putting a coin into her mouth with a past boyfriend, musing that:

the taste was metal. After that when Ade had kissed her he tasted of metal too. He passed a ten pence piece into her mouth, in past her teeth and off his tongue, flat on to her tongue like a communion wafer (p. 37).

For Else, the taste of the coin now reminds her of the man she once loved, who had ‘kissed her’ and ‘tasted of metal too’. Smith reinscribes the coin with a symbolic value that is not monetary, as suggested by its comparison to a ‘communion wafer’. A similar reinscription of the value of money also occurs when Clare, Sara’s sister, meets Duncan, the only person who witnessed Sara’s death in the Global Hotel. While recounting Sara’s death, Duncan tells Clare that Sara had ‘bet him a fiver she could get into the lift’; now unable to pay his debt to Sara, Duncan gives Clare the fiver instead (p. 204). Clare accepts the money and addresses Sara in her interior monologue, stating, ‘I put the five pounds in the cabinet too I won’t ever spend it it is yours […] I will keep it for you it is worth more than anything’ (pp. 215-216). By keeping the five-pound note ‘flattened […] out between two books’ in her cabinet, Clare removes the note from being circulated again, and imbues it with non-monetary value as a memorial for her dead sister (p. 216). Smith suggests that love, purer than the capitalist desire for consumerism and commodification, is a transformative agent that reinscribes monetary value with a symbolic value that is far deeper, more intimate and, ultimately, more human.

In her foreword to Ali Smith: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (2013), Marina Warner states that Smith’s fiction ‘quests’ to ‘reinvigorate the important things that matter to life, grappling with the meaning of love and loss without shying away’.[xii] In Hotel World, Smith criticises the contemporary culture of capitalism and commodification, under which the vulnerable are regularly disenfranchised. By amplifying these marginalised voices, Smith asks the reader to bear witness to the systemic injustices of capitalism; indeed, she asks the reader to hope for better by prioritising the ‘important things that matter to life’, such as love and compassion. When Sara’s ghost returns from beyond the grave, she returns with a message for everyone, from ‘the people in the cinema queue’ to the ‘check-out girls’ at the supermarket, and to the reader:

‘[h]ere’s the story.
Remember you must live.
Remember you most love.
Remainder you mist leaf.’

Cover Image:
Front Cover of Penguin’s 2002 edition of the novel. See Ali Smith, Hotel World (London: Penguin, 2002).

[i] Ali Smith, Hotel World (London: Penguin Books, 2002). All further references to this novel are to this edition, and page numbers are given in parentheses in the body of the post.

[ii] Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’, The National Interest, 16 (1989), 3-18 (p. 1).

[iii] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 85. From this point onwards, I will give the title in shorthand, thus referring to Specters of Marx as merely Specters.

[iv] María del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren, ‘The Spectral Turn/Introduction’, in The Spectralities Reader: Ghosts and Haunting in Contemporary Cultural Theory, eds. by María del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), pp. 31-36 (p. 33).

[v] Esther Peeren, The Spectral Metaphor: Living Ghosts and the Agency of Invisibility (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), p. 21.

[vi] Ibid, p. 14.

[vii] Ibid, p. 21.

[viii] Derrida, Specters, p. 41, emphasis in original.

[ix] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. by Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), pp. 2-3.

[x] Catherine Belsey, Desire: Love Stories in Western Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), p. 72.

[xi] Ibid, p. 72.

[xii] Marina Warner, ‘Foreword’, in Ali Smith: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, ed. by Monica Germana, and Emily Horton (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. viii-ix (p. ix).

Written by Akancha Gurung.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.


The Robin Hood ballads: Regurgitating Traditional Tropes or Deeply Influenced by Historical Context?

‘Not a Frenchman will I spare
Not a Frenchman will he spare.’
– ‘Robin Hood’s Fishing’, ll.104-108

Although Stephen Knight and  Thomas H. Ohlgren point out that the tropes, the ‘augmentation of the outlaw band’ and ‘Robin Hood meets his match’ are prevalent in the Robin Hood tradition, certain late ballads are more influenced by their historical military context than any previous Robin Hood material in the tradition. (1) ‘Robin Hood’s Fishing’ is shaped by the Anglo-French relations of the seventeenth century and ‘Robin Hood Prince of Aragon’ reflects the powerful threat of the Ottoman Empire.

Joseph Ritson recognises that the ‘most surviving common broad-sheet ballads were printed between the Restoration of 1660 and the Revolution of 1688’. (2) The relationship between France and England throughout the whole of the seventeenth century is characterised by war and military conflict, but it is most aggressive during, and shortly after the time Ritson refers to. The Anglo-French war of 1627-29 was sparked by the French refusal to ally with England against the Habsburg Spain and Austria. In the second Anglo-Dutch war (1665-1667), the French allied with the English enemy. (3) Similarly, the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-97) brought William III to the throne and therefore caused England’s alliance with the Dutch against the forces of Louis XIV. (4) This Anglo-French rivalry is undoubtedly articulated in the late Robin Hood ballad ‘Robin Hood’s Fishing’. Stephen Pincus notes that ‘[t]he streets of London and provincial towns were littered with pamphlets, broadsides and poems offering glosses on witticisms about the most recent doings of European dignitaries.’ (5) This confirms that this ballad could be a form of political propaganda. In it, the enemy is politicised. Robin Hood states, ‘not a Frenchman I will spare’ (6) and the narrator repeats, ‘not a Frenchman he would spare’ (l.108). Although ‘Frenchman’ is in the singular, it is symbolic of the entire nation which, is confirmed through the celebration of the violence in the ballad. The narrator repeats how Robin took his ‘noble bow’ (l.125). Despite the fact that the ballad comes after Munday’s gentrified version of Robin Hood, the adjective ‘noble’ is not connected with Robin, but with his weapon, and therefore with the violence. The bow is no longer being used for sport and archery competitions as it is in the early ballads, but is turned into a war weapon. The narrative of the ballad is celebrating the violence because of the political nature of the enemy which adds something new to the larger tradition, and shows its contextual influences. (7)

This celebration of violence in the ballad coincides with the negative portrayal of the French enemy. The fishermen were ‘awar of a French robber/Coming toward them most desperately’ (ll.79-80). This description, with the reference to robbery and the adverb ‘desperately’, suggests French greed and links with the absence of the fish in sea; Robin, disguised as Symon ‘neither gott great nor smaw’ (l.52). This lack of fish metaphorically suggests an impending French threat to goods on English soil as well as in the sea. This threat is confirmed towards the end of the ballad when Symon ‘found within that ship of war/[t]welve hundred pounds in gold so bright’ (ll.163-164). Pincus writes that in the late seventeenth century there was a ‘well-known Francophobia of Londoners’ and this shows how the ballad is responding to this popular negative feeling towards France and its ruler Louis XIV, who emerged from the Second Dutch War as immensely powerful. (8) This French power is reflected in the contrast between the ‘fisher and the waryer free/[…] the noble ship’ (ll.158-159). The English ‘fisher’ is unlikely to defeat the ‘noble’ French ship and this unprecedented success, alongside the greedy portrayal of the French, shows the ballad to be acting as a form of political propaganda. The ballad portrays the French as an easy defeat whilst also encouraging hatred towards them. Although the date of the ballad is ambiguous, the violence within it confirms that the negative attitude towards the French is shaped by the contextual military conflict between England and France in the late seventeenth century.


By the late sixteenth century the Ottoman Empire had established a large area of territory. However, the seventeenth century marked a change for the Empire. Their focus was now to defend existing land and trade routes, rather than further expansion. (9) Historian Cathal Nolan states that ‘by 1650 […] the empire was one of the largest states in the world at 800,000 square miles and 20 million inhabitants’ and because of wars, such as the Austro-Ottoman War (1683-1689), ‘much of Europe came to view the Ottomans as a lasting and direct security threat where previously it had been a distant and unknown country’. (10) This threatening perception of the Ottoman Empire is articulated through the late Robin Hood ballad, ‘Robin Hood Prince of Aragon’. (11) This ballad is particularly concerned with a racial othering of the enemy. The ‘proud Prince of Aragon’ (l. 49) is joined by two giants ‘most horrid for to see’ (l.56). They have ‘grisly looks, and eyes like brands, […] with serpents hissing on their helms,/[i]nstead of feathered plume’ (ll.57-60). The description of their eyes ‘branding terror’ and the ‘serpents on their helms’ makes the giants explicitly monstrous and inhuman. This othering of the enemy is taken further through use of the conjunctive adverb ‘instead’ which allows the narrator to show what is perceived as normal. It is not until later in the ballad when Robin encounters the Prince of Aragon and calls him a ‘tyrant Turk’ (l.141) that the significance of this othering is revealed. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire and their impending threat is allegorically dramatized through the otherness of the giants. Like, ‘Robin Hood’s Fishing’, this ballad is responding to the English perception of a potential military threat. This time the threat is the Ottoman Empire, which still confirms the large influence of the historical context.

This ballad places a larger focus on the violence between Robin Hood and the enemy in comparison to ‘Robin Hood’s Fishing’. This could contextually suggest that the Ottoman threat is stronger than the French threat. In terms of setting, the enemy is already on English soil, not out at sea. The Prince of Aragon commands ‘bring forth my bride, or London burns’ (l.127). The narrative of the enemy is engaging directly with the Great Fire of London of 1666. This not only shows how the ballad is responding to its context but also supports the idea that it is a form of political propaganda, encouraging a national wariness towards the Ottoman Empire. This threatening persona of the enemy is mostly articulated through the violence in the ballad. At the battle, Little John ‘clove the giant to the belt,/[a]nd cut in twain his heart’ (ll.175-176) and to the other giant Will Scadlock ‘with his faulchion he run through/ [a] deep and gashly wound’ (l.181-182). The violence, which structurally takes up a large section of the ballad, is littered with adjectives associated with aggression such as ‘hewd’ (l.155), ‘deep and gashly’ (l.182), and verbs such as ‘struck’ (l.158), ‘slain’ (l.160), and ‘clove’ (l.175). In ‘Robin Hood’s Fishing’, Robin uses his ‘noble bow’ and shoots the Frenchmen from afar whilst being ‘bound to the main mast tree’ (RHF, l.105). Here, the ‘noble bow’ is replaced with the ‘faulchion’ which in itself is symbolic for the greater intimacy of the battle because it means Robin and the enemy must fight closer together than with the use of a bow. This change in weaponry coincides with the greater focus upon the descriptions of the wounds – ‘blood sprang from every vain’ (l. 56) – and suggests the Ottoman threat to be greater than the French threat because the narrative is much more focused on the action. Despite the difference in the way that the threats are portrayed, these late ballads still show how the military context shapes their themes.

Featured Photo: Image from page 20 of ‘Robin Hood; a collection of ancient poems, songs, and ballads, not extant, relative to that celebrated English outlaw, to which are prefixed historical anecdotes of his life’, accessed from https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14766209342, [accessed on 29/11/18].

1)      Stephen Knight and Thomas H. Ohlgren, ‘Later Ballads: Introduction’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), available online at <http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/later-robin-hood-ballads-introduction> [Accessed 11/04/2017]

2)      Joseph Ritson, quoted in Rhymes of Robyn Hood by Richard Barrie Dobson and John Taylor (Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989), p. 51.

3)      Ronald H. Fritze and William B.  Robison, Historical Dictionary of Stuart England (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996), pp.203-204.

4)      John Childs, The Nine Years’ War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), pp.21-25.

5)      Stephen C.A Pincus , ‘From Butterboxes to Wooden Shoes: The Shift in English Popular Sentiment from Anti-Dutch to Anti-French in the 1670s’ in The Historical Journal, Vol. 38, No. 2 (1995), pp. 333-361 (p.335).

6)      ‘Robin Hood’s Fishing’, in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales , ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas H. Ohlgren (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), l. 104 available online at <http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/gest-of-robyn-hode> [Accessed 28/02/2017]. All further references are to this edition and are given parenthetically within the body of the essay.

7)      In the medieval ballad ‘Robin Hood and the Guy of Gisborne’, the violence is casual; Robin kills Sir Guy and cuts him in the face in order to make it seem as though it is him who is dead. ‘Robin Hood and the Guy of Gisborne’, in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales , ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas H. Ohlgren (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), available online at <http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/gest-of-robyn-hode> [Accessed 08/04/2017]. In Munday’s play The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon, the enemies are personal. Prince John is a rival for the love of Maid Marian. Anthony Munday, The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales , ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas H. Ohlgren (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), available online at <http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/downfall-of-robert-earle-of-huntington> [Accessed 08/04/2017].

8)      Stephen C. A. Pincus, Protestantism and Patriotism: Ideologies and the Making of English Foreign Policy: 1650-1658, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 254.

9)      Cathal C. Nolan, Wars of the age of Louis XIV, 1650-1715: An Encyclopaedia of Global Warfare and Civilisation (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008), p. 344.  

10)  Nolan, Wars of the age of Louis XIV, 1650-1715, p. 344.

11)   ‘Robin Hood and the Prince of Aragon’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales , ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas H. Ohlgren (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), available at <http://d.lib.rochester.edu/robin-hood/text/child-ballad-129-robin-hood-and-the-prince-of-aragon> [Accessed 14/04/17]. All other references to this text are to this edition and are given parenthetically within the body of the essay.

Written by Estelle Luck.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Conscience and Morality in Graham Greene’s Ministry of Fear

‘In childhood we live under the brightness of immortality – heaven is as near and actual as the seaside. Behind the complicated details of the world stand the simplicities […] that is why no later books satisfy us like those which were read to us in childhood – for those promised a world of great simplicity of which we know the rules’.
Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear,
p. 88-9.

Graham Greene classified his novel The Ministry of Fear as an entertainment, due to its espionage plot. However, many critics would disagree, arguing that it contains serious underlying themes.[1] The narrative focuses on the protagonist Arthur Rowe’s struggle with grief and his journey as he comes to terms with his mercy killing of his wife. Focusing on the character’s own identity and conscience, Greene brings into question the meaning of morality and the definitions of good and evil as his protagonist struggles to perceive himself as an innocent man.

Opening with the presentation of a village fete, the protagonist enters a state of nostalgia; this is triggered by the innocence of the event and the childhood memories that this evokes. The author leaves the reader feeling empathetic; it becomes clear that the character Arthur Rowe is a lost man searching for his childhood innocence and naivety. In his search for release from the burden of guilt, the protagonist reverts to his past in an attempt to recreate the childlike innocence that he remembers, refusing to accept this as an unattainable goal. Throughout the novel, Greene focuses on the theme of childhood versus adulthood, as Arthur Rowe, an adult man, reminisces about his own childhood, avoiding the horrors that his adult-self has experienced. The protagonist often looks to children’s literature and, through these references, Greene indicates the problems that come with looking to fiction as moral guidance. Whilst describing his reading of these children’s stories, the narrator states that he does so ‘not so much because he liked them as because he had read them as a child, and they carried no adult memories’.[2] The protagonist is clearly using literature as a means of escape from his adult identity, rather than facing his guilt. He narrates that ‘in childhood we live under the brightness of immortality – heaven is as near and actual as the seaside. Behind the complicated details of the world stand the simplicities […] that is why no later books satisfy us like those which were read to us in childhood – for those promised a world of great simplicity of which we know the rules’ (p. 88-9). He recognises that adult literature is tainted and confused by complexity and ambiguity through experience, looking to simplistic childhood literature as a moral guidance.

In Book Two of the novel, Greene disorientates the reader by introducing Arthur Rowe as Digby; this disruption reflects the confusion and disorientation that the character also feels. Mary Ann Melfi notes that ‘subconscious growth in Rowe’s case is an inadvertent process wherein the subconscious takes control, working at its own pace. Here, the conscious mind relaxes, and the subconscious fulminates before manifesting itself.’[3] The protagonist’s forgetting of his identity works as a kind of healing process, administered by his own subconscious. His own pain and vulnerability become unbearable and, rather than facing his fears and facing himself, it is easier to forget and live a lie. The character’s conscience is so burdened with guilt that he entirely recreates his own identity, erasing the torturous memories of his wife’s death in a final desperate attempt to move forward. His disturbing memories have been erased and at this point in the narrative he is demonstrated to be at peace, viewing himself as an innocent man. The character of Digby represents the Arthur Rowe that would have been had he not killed his wife and suffered with the guilt. Arguably, the character has achieved his goal of innocent content through the erasure of his adult memories. However, this is shown to be only a temporary state, in which his subconscious is allowing him to heal and decipher his identity without the pain of facing his crime head on. As Arthur contemplates his childhood, he reflects on the fact that ‘he learned before he was seven what pain was like – he wouldn’t willingly allow even a rat to suffer it’ (p. 88). The reader learns of the character’s inability to witness pain and suffering due to his empathetic nature. As Digby, the protagonist feels great sympathy for the character of Stone; he remarks that ‘he felt capable of murder for the release of that gentle tormented creature’ (p. 141). Despite his identity being entirely forgotten and recreated, the sense of empathy that Arthur Rowe possessed seems ever-present. His core human nature remains the same, indicating a contingency and suggesting that even Digby, undisturbed by the burden of an ill wife, would have committed the same crime due to his own moral code. The protagonist’s tendency to empathise and pity others has ultimately led to his mental destruction; through Digby, it becomes clear that this is inherent in his human nature.

Featured Image: Front cover of the 1974 Penguin edition of the novel.

[1] James M. Welsh and Gerald R. Barrett, ‘Graham Greene’s Ministry of Fear: The Transformation of an Entertainment’, Literature and Film Quarterly, 2 (1974), p. 312.

[2] Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear (New York: Penguin Books, 1963), (pp.20-1). All other references are to this edition and are given in parenthesis in the main body of the text

[3] Mary Ann. Melfi, ‘The Landscape of Grief: Graham Greene’s ‘The Ministry of Fear’’, South Atlantic Review, 69 (2004) <http:// www.jstor.org/stable/20064577 > [accessed 19 April 2018] pp. 54-73, p. 64.

Written by Amy Fretwell.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Fragile Masculinity and the Development of Industrial America in ‘The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids”

‘Male authors fixated on factory women’s sexual identity in an attempt to control their activities rhetorically, but in the process they symptomatized the many ways women’s labor no longer clearly evidenced male dominion.’
Megan M. Wadle, ‘“Rightly Enough Called Girls”,  p.55.

The American short story traces the development of women’s role in industrial America. In ‘The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids’ it becomes clear that women are integral to the new, industrial America as they work tirelessly in the paper mill. Over the course of the nineteenth century, women were fundamental workers within the factory. Thomas Dublin notes how they encouraged industrial and capitalistic progress. He says, ‘over the second half of the nineteenth century, employment in New England textiles doubled and cloth production quintupled in value.’[1] The women’s industrial importance is particularly noteworthy when contrasted to the lives of the bachelors in Melville’s short story. Kevin J. Hayes suggests:

‘the descriptive trappings of a bachelors’ Elysium in “The Paradise of Bachelors” would have been familiar to most of Melville’s readers […] like many nineteenth-century bachelors, he is a flaneur, one who cloaks himself in an identity presaged on leisurely observation.[2]

Against the backdrop of the growing industrial world, which women were so involved in, Melville’s story is a contemporarily relevant way of depicting idleness of men. The bachelor’s behaviour, recognisable to the contemporarily reader, depicts a world in decline. Their lifestyle is rendered obsolete when noted against the economic growth emerging from the mills and factories women worked in. Thomas Dublin highlights the success as he notes, ‘in 1850, cotton and woollen textile mills in New England employed about eighty-five thousand workers producing goods valued at just over $68 million.’[3] The growing industrial success of the female factory workers further renders the bachelor’s lifestyle and idleness as outmoded. Melville makes reference to the outdated aristocracy of the Templar Knights, an old fashioned European organisation shrouded in mystery and romance. He says, ‘do we understand you to insinuate that those famous Templars still survive in modern London? […] Surely a Monk-Knight were a curious sight picking his way along the Strand’[4] (p.86) Melville’s constant references to the past hint that the world of the bachelors is a product of fantasy, one which is being romanticised so the men can cling onto an outdated lifestyle. The narrator continues to call them ‘degenerate’ and says, ‘the bold Knights Templars are no more.’ (p.87) The narrator himself sets off the idea of the outdated, anachronistic lifestyle of the Templars. Even the current day bachelors, who he claims have ‘wit and wine […]of sparkling brands’ are depicted as idle. In the story, all they do is eat, drink and take ‘snuff very freely’ before returning to the street to either ‘call a hack’ or ‘be driven snugly to their distant lodgings.’ (p.93) The masculine past that the narrator is clinging to no longer has a place in society. The old, Christian world in London contrasts so greatly to the new industrial present. Kevin J Hayes argues that:

‘at a moment of cultural transition, when gender and sexual categories were solidifying and many Americans had become interested in labelling identities […] he [Melville] styled himself “the last lingerer on a generational threshold.’[5]

Melville’s story recognises a societal change which renders the bachelor lifestyle obsolete. He clings onto an outdated aristocratic lifestyle, knowing that is no longer has a noteworthy place in America. Gender categories were being redefined and Melville’s story is one way to track the process of change in America.

Whilst it becomes clear that the aristocratic male world is in decline, Melville still does not depict the industrial female experience in a positive way. The women live trapped to the patriarchal world and are treated as human machines. The story begins with a description of the bleak landscape, correlating with the bleak experience of the women inside the mill. Melville manipulates the language to dramatize the harsh setting of the story. The mountain the mill is placed on is named ‘Woedolor’.  This name immediately introduces the fundamental theme of commerce and transaction in connection with sadness. These themes are then placed in the feminine landscape. The journey the narrator takes in order to arrive at the ‘Devil’s Dungeon’ is described as ‘bleak’, with a wheel-road that is ‘dangerously narrow.’(p.94)  The story mediates gender politics through the landscape, particularly since the river is named ‘Blood River.’ Melville connects the hellish, unpleasant and dangerous landscape with blood to evoke images of pain, but also menstruation, an innate female experience. The location of the paper mill is a direct contrast to the ‘paradise’ of the Temple Bar, which is described as being ‘dreamy’ and ‘charming.’ (p.86) Melville depicts the old, aristocratic world of men as idle and outdated. However, the new, industrial female world is likened to hell and described in cold, harsh language. It becomes clear that the gender discourse of new America has not yet been figured out. Martin Schofield argues, ‘the luxury depicted [in the first story] can be seen to depend, economically and psychologically, on the suffering in the second story.’[6] It seems that old, masculine America needs to depend on female suffering in order to reaffirm patriarchal superiority. The male world needs to reconfirm its own identity within the ever-growing female industrial space. The aristocratic Templars are depicted as outmoded, the new discourse of industry and women workers has not yet been figured out. Megan M. Wadle argues:

‘Male authors fixated on factory women’s sexual identity in an attempt to control their activities rhetorically, but in the process they symptomatized the many ways women’s labor no longer clearly evidenced male dominion.[7]

Therefore, in this instance, Melville uses female suffering in order to highlight the fragility of masculine identity within the development of industrial America. Melville’s story depicts the male anxiety of trying to reconfirm an identity in the growing industrial society. The American short story traces the decline of the bachelor’s world and the rising female industrial world. In doing so, it notes the patriarchal response to the continuous growth of capitalist America.

Featured Painting: Gustave Courbet, The Ornans Paper Mill (c.1865), Oil on Canvas, Musée Courbet, France.

Megan M. Wadle, ‘“Rightly Enough Called Girls”: Melville’s Violated Virgins and Male Marketplace Fears’ in American Literature: A Journey of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography (2018) Vol.90 No.1 p.55.

[1] Thomas Dublin, Transforming Women’s Work: New England Lives in the Industrial Revolution (New York: Cornell University Press, 1995) p.230the-ornans-paper-mill.jpg!Large

[2] Kevin J Hayes, Herman Melville in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) p.g n/a

[3] Thomas Dublin, Transforming Women’s Work: New England Lives in the Industrial Revolution, p.228

[4] Herman Melville in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, ed. by Joyce Carol Oates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) pp.86-106 (p.87) All further references are to this edition and are given parenthetically within the body of the essay.

[5] Kevin J Hayes, Herman Melville in Context p.g n/a

[6] Martin Schofield, The Cambridge Introduction to the American Short Story,  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) p.50

[7] Megan M. Wadle, ‘“Rightly Enough Called Girls”: Melville’s Violated Virgins and Male Marketplace Fears’ in American Literature: A Journey of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography (2018) Vol.90 No.1 p.55

Written by Sarah Culham.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Deconstructing English Patriotism in Patrick Hamilton’s Slaves of Solitude

‘Slaves of Solitude is Hamilton’s attempt to make a connection between large historical forces, the evil that we read about in the newspapers, and the squabbles and petty struggles that make up quotidian individual existence.’ 
-Sean French, Patrick Hamilton: A Life, p.187.

Patrick Hamilton’s Slaves of Solitude uses narrative perspective to emphasise a scepticism towards English patriotism. The novel’s third person narrator is heavily subjective and slips into free indirect discourse to reveal Miss Roach’s inner thoughts and concerns. After an evening with the American Lieutenant and Vicki, the narrator shows how Miss Roach reflects on how she was called ‘an English Miss’. (1) The narrator informs readers that ‘[s]he had awakened at half-past three, and so she had been torturing herself for over an hour now.’ (p.128) It continues: ‘Why should she torture herself? Why should she let this filthy woman torture her? She mustn’t call her a filthy woman. She wasn’t filthy. But then, again, she was! (p.128). Despite the third person narrator, the repetition of ‘filthy’ and the contradictions in the passage show the extent of the narrator’s penetrative powers. It mirrors Miss Roach’s thought patterns and opinions of Vicki, revealing the extent to which she is troubled by Vicki’s behaviour. Later in the passage Miss Roach’s thoughts are articulated through free indirect discourse: ‘No – it wasn’t fair – it wasn’t fair ! […] Did Vicki, by the way, think that she – Vicki – wasn’t plain and middle aged?’ (p.130) The multiple exclamations and the use of italicisation show how the novel gives voice to Miss Roach’s frustrations. The narrator continues mirroring Miss Roach’s thoughts when it lists Vicki’s wrongdoings:

‘offending the friend she sought to make by the clumsiness of her idiom and manner of thought, […] her reluctance to pay for drinks, […] turning up late without making proper apologies, […] going to Mrs Payne behind Miss Roach’s back, and so on and so forth?’ (p.132)

The continuous and uninterrupted listing again suggests the narrator to be in tune with Miss Roach’s rambling thoughts. The narrative, in this chapter, is both broken up by pauses and questions, yet at points it progresses quickly and uncontrollably. Miss Roach cannot be rid of her thoughts and frustrations about Vicki even when ‘she [becomes] aware of a great purring [of planes] in the sky above and all around’ (p.133). Introducing the sound of planes in the background draws attention to the fact that Miss Roach is more concerned with her personal war with Vicki than with the World War happening outside. The extent of the narrator’s subjectivity is what breaks down the assumption that Miss Roach’s main concern is the War; she has concerns much closer to home and the War remains a remote issue.

This deconstruction of a universal English pride in fighting against the collective German enemy continues when the narrator connects the language of battle and war with episodes in Miss Roach’s life. Towards the beginning of the novel Miss Roach goes for a drink with the Lieutenant and feels ‘pleasure at having the monotony of her evening blown to smithereens’ (p.28). The narrator notes how this would cause a ‘minor tumult […] in particular, in the breast of Mr Thwaites who was no doubt at this moment […] booming away in the lounge’ (p.28). The language of war and, in particularly, of the destruction of the Blitz, is used to describe how her first evening with the Lieutenant breaks her routine of eating at the boarding house. The narrator portrays Miss Roach’s encounter with the Lieutenant to be just as, if not more, dramatic as the War. Similarly, the narrator sympathises with Miss Roach when describing Mr Thwaites voice as ‘booming’, rendering him as destructive and threatening like the enemy bombs. The novel argues that individual conflicts, like the one between Miss Roach and Mr Thwaites, are more of an immediate concern for people than the remote War. Sean French argues that this novel is ‘Hamilton’s attempt to make a connection between large historical forces, the evil that we read about in the newspapers, and the squabbles and petty struggles that make up quotidian individual existence’. (2) However, Hamilton does more than merely connect the two. He places the emphasis on the individual and deconstructs the idea put forward by the government propaganda of a ‘united England’ with a shared experience of war.

The way in which Hamilton’s Slaves is divided into both chapters and numbered sections within chapters works to reveal an apprehension about a united England. The way in which the chapters are constructed stresses the importance of internal thought and experience rather than plot. The first chapter ends with Miss Roach in the ‘Odeon Cinema’ (p.27) and chapter two begins again with Miss Roach ‘sat in the white darkness of the Odeon Cinema at Thames Lockdown’ (p.27). The chapters link to one another, giving the impression that little progress has been made in terms of plot. However, ‘it was Saturday […] [a]nd three weeks has passed since she has rushed out from Mr Thwaites and hidden herself in here’ (p.27). Despite this jump in time, the chapter then continues by filling in the time in between both trips to the cinema. The narrator flashes back, talking in detail about when Miss Roach and the Lieutenant went to ‘the River Sun and took a seat at a table in a corner near the fire’ (p.29), her ‘panic’ at ‘the idea of being made to drink anymore’ (p.31), her ‘renewed freshness and eagerness’ (p.41) after ‘the kisses in the darkness by the river’ (p.41) and the Lieutenant’s ‘bombshell’ (p.42) of a marriage proposal to which she reflects and continually asks questions such as, ‘was it a joke – a sort of leg-pull?’ (p.43) The chapter addresses Miss Roach’s thoughts, opinions and contemplations before returning to the ‘white darkness’ (p.44) of the cinema. This lack of chronological movement shows, like the penetrating narrative voice, how the novel places an emphasis on the individual drama of thought and internal realities. It reveals that the plot consists of the characters’ wandering psychologies and again, reveals the scepticism about war being a primary concern for all of society.

Featured Image-
First edition of the novel.

1, Patrick Hamilton, Slaves of Solitude (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 129. All further references to this text are to this edition and are given parenthetically within the body of the essay. The novel will be referred to as the shortened title Slaves.

2, Sean French, Patrick Hamilton: A Life (London: Faber and Faber, 1993), p.187.
Written by Estelle Luck.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Freedom in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange

‘What I do I do because I like to do.’
-Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, p. 31.

Anthony Burgess’ novella, published in 1962, invites discussion on the question of what is true freedom, and how much of it should we be permitted to have? T. H. Green’s definition of true freedom includes negative freedom, as well as positive.1 This is indicative of the idea that when freedom is desired, this idea of true freedom may not be implied. Instead, he suggests a sense of freedom with limitations, in which individuals are not free to do entirely as one wishes due to the potential negative consequences of this, as the more desirable concept.

Burgess’ protagonist, Alex, demonstrates Green’s idea of true freedom, as he is initially free from coercion or restriction and regulation. He also seemingly possesses the freedom to do as he pleases, committing monstrous crimes for his own pleasure. Although, as a society, we may supposedly crave a full sense of freedom, it is clear through characters such as Alex, that this complete sense of freedom may be detrimental to the community and therefore limitations must be enforced. The character narrates that ‘what I do I do because I like to do’, exemplifying his freedom of choice at the beginning of the novella and his application of this full sense of freedom.2 On the issue of morality, Burgess tells us in his introduction that ‘The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities’.3 Through the obscenities and gruesome crimes that the protagonist and his gang commit, we learn that with freedom comes moral choice and with good comes evil. Therefore, if we, as a society, allow freedom to be used for good, then it inevitably will be used in the same way for evil.

Once Alex’s actions have been altered by the aversion therapy, the state have influenced and limited his sense of true freedom, manipulating his freedom to act as he chooses, as well as removing his freedom from coercion. However, Sumner argues that Alex’s choices were never free for him to make, as he has always been manipulated by the state. He contests that the character’s criminal actions, and even the cause of these, being the desire for criminality, are ‘socially or institutionally conditioned.’4 This idea suggests that, although Burgess depicts the authoritative state to deprive Alex of his free will, and freedom to choose to act independently, in fact, the protagonist did not possess this to begin with. Sumner argues that Alex acts against the state, as his personal form of resistance. He furthers these ideas, claiming that ‘In a social and political register, Alex is forced to choose between totalitarianism and anarchy. That choice is false and, if anything, testifies to a lack of individual freedom. If there are no good options, then individual choice is a mere abstraction; one might as well flip a coin.’5 Although the character seemingly actively chooses to behave violently and break the law, Sumner argues that this, in fact, is his choice between two options dictated to him by the authority, and therefore, he does not possess the true concept of freedom. Alex is a product of the totalitarian state and he is therefore conditioned to behave violently as his form of resistance.

Featured Image: Front Cover of Penguin’s 2013 edition. See Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Classics, 2013).

1. T. H. Green in Adrian Blau, ‘Against Positive and Negative Freedom’, Political Theory, 32. 4 (2004) http://www.jstor.org/stable/4148106 [accessed 2 May 2018] p. 549-50.

2. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Group, 1972), p. 31. All other references are to this edition and are given in parenthesis in the main body of the text.

3. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (New York: W.W Norton & Company, 1986), p. XIII.

4. Charles Sumner, ‘Humanist Drama in A Clockwork Orange’, The Yearbook of English Studies: Literature of the 1950s and 1960s, 42 (2012) http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5699/yearenglstud.42.2012.0049 [accessed 1 May 2018] (p. 57-7).

Resisting Slaveowner Stereotypes in Matthew Lewis’s Journal of West India Proprietor

“I was tempted to tell him- ‘Do not say that again; say you are my negro, but do not call yourself my slave.’”
-Matthew Lewis, Journal of West India Proprietor, p. 62.

As the slave owner of two plantations, Lewis found himself in a difficult position of power at a time of political reform. His autobiographical Journal of a West India Proprietor, depicting his travels in 1818 to his two inherited Jamaican plantations, provide an account of slavery from the perspective of the slave owner. From the very beginning of his travels, it becomes apparent to the reader that Lewis’s conduct and subsequent treatment of his slaves is heavily influenced by the changing social climate; he essentially performs his own act of ‘resistance’, revolting against the norms of the typical slaveowner. Elucidating on the position of the colonial slaveowner during the nineteenth century, Carl Plasa argues that Lewis is ‘awkwardly placed’ ‘in a system increasingly contested on moral grounds whilst its importance was ceasing to exist within Britain’s changing imperial economy (p. 59).1 This awkward placing significantly influences the representation of both Lewis’s interaction with his slaves, as well as his resistance in presenting his enslaved workers as oppressed individuals. As a result of this, Lewis introduces his audience to his Cornwall plantation as place of Utopia. Throughout his account, Lewis continually seeks to affirm the happiness and ease of his slaves:

‘Whether the pleasure of the negroes was sincere may be doubted; but certainly it was the loudest I had ever witnessed: they all talked together, sang, danced, shouted.’2

Despite clearly recognizing his own hand in the oppression of his slaves, he appears to rely greatly on the delusion of his slaves being liberated human beings. Lewis frequently attempts to justify his actions and position as slave owner throughout journal, which has resulted in the text being highly controversial and heavily critiqued since its first publication. As Maureen Hankin outlines, Lewis’s journal ‘exemplifies how under pressure of contradictory impulses, the text hovers between uncertainty and aggressive self-justification as a representation of the British colonial slaveholder’ (p. 141).3 Lewis certainly epitomises the morally-torn slaveholder. He frequently seeks to justify how idyllic his ‘workplace’ plantations are through comparisons with the western world. As he remarks, ‘I believe their [the slaves] condition to be much more comfortable than that of the labourers of Great Britain’ (p. 62). These comparisons, deployed with the purpose of diminishing the concept of slave suffering, are inconceivable to the benevolent reader’s knowledge of slavery and its distressing history.

Lewis continues to resist the concept of both slavery, as well as his own part in its history, through his repeated attempts to persuade his audience of the equal rights that his slaves obtain. He frequently alludes throughout the journal to his attempts to give his slaves a ‘voice’; this is shown through a court hearing, in which Lewis states that ‘they are not obliged to believe a negro witness, but I maintain that he ought to be heard’ (p. 222). In doing so, however, Lewis presents the slaveowner as a figure of respectability and reasonableness as opposed to a gate-keeper of liberty. His delusions continue through his attempts to defend his own position of power; he states that ‘I am not conscious of having omitted any means of satisfying my negroes, and rendering them happy and secure from oppression’ (p. 203). His continual bribes of holidays, presents from England and his granting of wishes to the slaves reinforces his notion of the plantation being a stable and safe environment to its workers; this Utopic vision is in stark contrast to the legitimated place of imprisonment that Lewis continues to upkeep.

This resistance to slavery and his own personal collusion with the trade is furthered in Lewis’s censorship of the word ‘slave’. His loathing towards the term is documented in his introduction to a black servant, who remarks to Lewis ‘Massa not know me; me your slave!’; this results in Lewis feeling ‘a pang at the heart’ (p. 62). It is in this exchange that the reader begins to see how elements of the plantation life weigh heavily upon Lewis’s conscience; this results in his refusal, and subsequent denial, of the suffering inflicted by his actions upon the lives of his slaves. Lewis, humiliated by this conversation with his servant, writes that he was ‘was tempted to tell him- ‘’Do not say that again; say you are my negro, but do not call yourself my slave’ (p. 62). However, Lewis appears oblivious to the clear hypocrisy of his suggestion; despite replacing ‘slave’ with ‘negro’, he still justifies this with the qualifier ‘my’.

As the journal progresses, Lewis furthers his attempts to relieve his slaves of some of their discomforts. Further into his stay, Lewis demands that the use of the cart-whip be diminished, an instrument used as a means of punishment and control over the slaves. In this way, Lewis resists the expected conduct of the slaveowner; he states advice from one of his own slaves, remarking ‘he said that kindness was the only way to make good negroes and that, if that failed, flogging would never succeed’ (p. 165). In considering an opinion from one of his ‘inferiors’, Lewis attempts to distinguish himself from the nature of many atrocious slaveowners in history that sought to silence and oppress the people they ruled. However, despite resistance on Lewis’s part to inflict violence on his ‘workers’, this act of resistance is still fraught with contradiction. Although his refusal to inflict ‘any punishment’ on a slave ‘however great the offence might be’ (p.196) is deemed a humane gesture, it remains an inherently contradictory one as he still uses his white privilege to enslave other humans against their will.

Regardless of Lewis’s repeated attempts to resist the concept of slavery and the position of slave owner, his Utopian vision is ultimately demonstrated to be little more than a delusion built by the author in an attempt to free himself of his torment and guilt in participating in the horrific trade of human lives. Lewis’s Utopian vision is undermined throughout by his devotion in recording incidents of slave revolts. One such account details the rebellion of a ‘black servant girl’ who ‘stood by the bed to see her master drink the poison’ (p. 179). These accounts of rebellion against white oppressor figures, although only briefly mentioned in Matthew Lewis’s Journal of a West India Proprietor, clearly demonstrate the horrific sufferings of the victims at the very heart of the transatlantic slave trade.

Featured Image- Cover Image taken from HardPress Publishing’s 2012 edition of Matthew Lewis’s Journal of a West India Proprietor.

1. Carl Plasa, Slaves to Sweetness: British and Caribbean Literatures of Sugar (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009) p. 54

2. Matthew G. Lewis, Journal of a West India Proprietor (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2008) p. 61. All further references to Lewis’s text are to this edition and will be given parenthetically.

3. Maureen Hankin, ‘Matthew Lewis’s Journal of a West India Proprietor: Surveillance and Space on the Plantation’, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 24 (2002), 139-150 (p. 141)

Written by Ashleigh Edwards.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Alienating the Foreign ‘Other’ in Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude

‘And what right, pray, had a German woman, a German Miss – at such stage of international proceedings, in the fourth year of a bitter warfare between the two nations – to allude, in such a way, to an English woman – an English woman on her own soil?’
-(Patrick Hamilton, The Slaves of Solitude, p.131)

Throughout literature created during the time of the London Blitz, a continual preoccupation with foreignness is displayed. More specifically, foreignness is continually represented as a threat to English nationalism and security. This is clearly demonstrated in Hamilton’s Slaves of Solitude in which Miss Roach, threatened by the German national Vicki Kugelmann, persistently attempts to isolate her from British society. On first encountering Vicki, Miss Roach declares ‘The German girl’ (p.49) as ‘quiet, cultivated, and intelligent, and because isolated in the town (for different reasons but in much the same way as herself) admirably cut out as a friend’ (p. 49).1 Despite her clear approval of Vicki’s personality, this appears to be entirely quantified by Miss Roach’s instant demarcating of her as ‘Other’; Vicki, ‘the German girl’, finds herself immediately alienated from British culture. Further, in Miss Roach’s allusion to Vicki as a ‘girl’, Hamilton creates a power imbalance through the suggestion of Vicki as younger and therefore inferior to the matronly titled ‘Miss Roach’. Separated from British society through her German nationality, Vicki is ultimately isolated; her foreignness as a German national is determined to be a difficulty that results in her exclusion from British society.

This societal exclusion is further heightened due to Vicki Kugelmann’s rumoured connections with Nazi Germany. It is these rumours that Miss Roach attempts to exploit; in her repeated efforts to gain Vicki’s verbal approval of the Nazi regime, Miss Roach tries to use Vicki’s foreignness as a weapon to further alienate her from society. These attempts appear to be successful; after describing the fraught political situation as ‘a very complicated world…. A very complicated situation altogether’ (p. 195), Vicki finds herself instantly set upon by Miss Roach who fiercely demands:

‘Does being cosmopolitan in outlook… mean that you think things are so complicated that you support the Nazis in all the murder and filth and torture they’ve been spreading over Europe, and still are?’ (p. 197).

As a result of this, Miss Roach instantly seeks to alienate Vicki as a Nazi supporter who keenly approves of the ‘murder, filth and torture’ (p. 197). Associated in this manner with the extreme political principles of the foreign enemy, Vicki finds herself the victim of intense suspicion and societal isolation. Despite attempts by figures such as Mr Thwaite to allay suspicions surrounding Vicki, these prove entirely ineffectual; rather, such defence results in Vicki becoming increasingly more defined by her German heritage. During one such conversation with Miss Roach, Thwaite’s declares:

‘”There’s no need,” said Mr. Thwaites, “to insult a German woman in her own-” Mr. Thwaites stopped himself just in time. He had, in his confusion of mind, been going to say “in her own country”. But this, although it sounded so good on the surface, wouldn’t do. In her own country was exactly where the German woman was not. (p. 198)

In his attempts to correct Miss Roach, Mr. Thwaites ultimately finds himself unwillingly reiterating the supposed problem of Vicki’s nationality. Although accepted by some members of the English society in which Vicki resides, the error made by Mr. Thwaites  regarding her home country acts as a continual reminder to the reader that Vicki is unable to escape her position as a foreign ‘Other’. Hamilton, through the competing of Miss Roach and Vicki for the affections of Lieutenant Pike, further accentuates the conflict of Vicki’s position in British society. Miss Roach, believing Vicki to be her love rival, finds herself musing over ‘the German girls’ intentions:

And what right, pray, had a German woman, a German Miss – at such stage of international proceedings, in the fourth year of a bitter warfare between the two nations – to allude, in such a way, to an English woman – an English woman on her own soil? (p. 131)

Clearly, Hamilton creates a situation that sharply mirrors the external war taking place between the two warring factions. Miss Roach, identified in the latter quote as a representative of British nationalist, finds herself in perpetual conflict with German ‘invader’, Vicki. Standing on her ‘own soil’ (p.131), it becomes apparent that Miss Roach believes herself to have the upper hand; as a British woman in her own home country, she believes herself to have a clear advantage over the ostracised foreignness that Vicki symbolises. This contrast between the local battle of two opposing women fighting for a lovers affection with the wider social context of horrific war serves to remind the reader that the war is ever present; even when the conflict cannot literally be seen, it remains underlying at all times.

In this way, it becomes apparent Vicki is a figure who is denounced as ‘Other’ to the British nationality embodied by both Miss Roach and the society in which Vicki finds herself living. In doing so, Hamilton explores the discrepancy in nationalities which ultimately leads to conflict and alienation of foreign nationals as figures of suspicion and threat. Thus, in Slaves of Solitude foreignness is clearly examined through the contrast between Britishness, the cultural norm, and foreign nationalities that are presented as ‘Other’ and threatening. In doing so, the comparison of foreignness highlights the direct and subtle points of difference between individual characters which are determined by one’s nationality.

Featured Image:
 Front cover of Abacus’s 2017 edition of Patrick Hamilton, The Slaves of Solitude. 

1. Patrick Hamilton, The Slaves of Solitude (Cardinal: Sphere Books, 1991). All further references to Hamilton’s text are to this edition and will be presented parenthetically.

For Further Reading on Slaves of Solitude, see:

  • Bernard Bergonzi, Wartime and Aftermath: English Literature and its Background 1939- 1960 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
  • Sean French, Patrick Hamilton: A Life (London: Faber and Faber, 1993)
  • Kristine Miller, A British Literature of the Blitz: Fighting the People’s War (New York: Palgrave, 2009)

Written by Imogen Barker.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.