Posted by: sataniques | November 23, 2020

The Feminization of Dr. James Barry

This blog post will explore the life and speculations on gender about Dr. James Barry, as well as The Public[k] Universal Friend.

A portrait of Dr. James Barry, taken from here.

Dr. James Barry was a Victorian-era surgeon, had served in the British military, and was assigned female at birth. He was (most likely) born in county Cork, Ireland circa-1789. While yes, he had been assigned female at birth, he died as a man. Is this information important? Is James Barry one of the earliest examples of a #transicon, or would he have been mortified to be portrayed as such? The general public of today can obviously never know the answer to these questions, but they are still important to  ask. 

James Barry was enrolled in a medical university program in Edinburgh in 1809, changing his identity from his birth name and gender to the one that he would continue to live with throughout the remainder of his career and life. He was assisted by his mother (posing as his aunt, in order to distance herself from his immediate family) and several “liberal minded friends” of the family. They successfully guided James Barry through the application and selection process, and James Barry became Dr. James Barry, graduate of his medical program and quickly working through the next steps toward becoming a successful surgeon. When he was selected to serve in the British Army as a hospital assistant, Dr. Barry quickly moved up the medical ranks and established himself as an internationally known physician. He relocated to South Africa to practice medicine, and continued to move throughout Africa, The West Indies, and other places under British Colonial rule. Dr. Barry was becoming increasingly concerned with sanitation, and worked to bring new sanitation policies to the medical facilities that he served. Interestingly, he also carried out one of the first documented C-sections.

Of his character, Dr. Barry was apparently quite hot headed and quick to anger. There are several theories that this was an act in order to prove his masculinity, while others state that this is just how he was. The man even threw hands with Florence Nightingale! As someone who is a testosterone-taker, I have drifted in and out of the daydream that James Barry may have been one of the first AFAB people to experiment with self-dosing testosterone for masculinization…

But this is the problem. These theories, these articles, these speculations, they are not for us. Why do people feel so entitled to the private lives of people who cross gender boundaries? 

There have been several books and articles describing Dr. Barry as a Woman Ahead of Her Time or as the Male Military Surgeon Who Wasn’thow dehumanizing to disregard the deceased Dr. Barry’s request for privacy by writing these speculative things. Upon his death, Dr. James Barry had requested that he be quickly buried in the clothes and bedsheets that he died in, and that his body not be inspected. Obviously, this wish was historically disregarded as well because we KNOW about him. If he had been buried and quietly mourned according to his desires, he would have been another good doctor in the history of British medicine. A charwoman had apparently inspected and washed his body after death and had discovered that he had “female” natal genitalia and pregnancy stretch marks about his stomach. Word, obviously, got out. 

To ascribe any gender other than the one that he presented to the world throughout his entire life and the one that he died as to Dr. James Barry is wrong. While it is a seductive idea to pretend that Dr. Barry had to hide his identity as a woman, but really still identified as such, it has no basis in reality as far as we know. The true story of why Dr. Barry chose to present and identify as male is unknown, and trying to use his story as a feminist critique of Victorian (or historical) gender roles falls flat. There are plenty of other avenues to explore this concept while leaving Dr. Barry out of it. His wishes were not respected upon his death and the replication of this sensationalist story continued from the Victorian era to the 2020s, when articles are still being written about him today. In fact, a student at Mount Holyoke College is bending their own ethics in order to write about the topic for a publicly accessible blog, continuing the replication of Barry’s life. At least this student does not misgender him for the sake of continued scandal. Ahem.

Desperately attempting to misgender AFAB people throughout history who presented as male or nonbinary is a common theme.

An image of The Friend, taken from here.

Just shy of the Victorian era, in the United States, saw the existence of The Public Universal Friend, a preacher and non-binary individual. The Friend (which is what they preferred to be called) was likewise assigned female at birth and later came to identify as what we would today describe as nonbinary. They were a very religious Quaker and, after contracting typhus in their teens, woke after several days stating that they had died, been invited to Heaven and were now filled with the spirit of G-d: A gender neutral universal friend to preach and spread awareness of salvation. They eschewed their birth name, choosing only to be referred to as The Publick Universal Friend or The Friend, and asked to not be referred to with gendered pronouns. They wore only traditionally masculine or androgynous clothing and male Quaker headdresses. The Friend spent the remainder of their life as a genderless individual performing traveling sermons, collecting a group of followers. They died and wished to continue being referred to as a genderless person after their death.

Arguments against The Friend’s non-binary identity return to the idea that they could not have been as successful as a preacher if they continued living as a woman, so they chose to disguise themselves as a man. Likewise, they explore the idea that The Friend was brain damaged from their fever, or otherwise mentally ill because of the illness, and that is why they identified the way that they did. There are several books written about The Friend feminizing them, such as Pioneer Prophetess and Female Preaching in America. Again, these continued articles and books are disrespectful to the very real wishes of the very real person who lived hundreds of years ago.

I stated in my blog post The Masculinization of Dorian Gray that visuality played a big part in why depictions of the character tended toward the manly because “[i]t is easier to disguise the homosexuality of a protagonist if they are stripped of their femininity, as is the case with Enjolras and Dorian” and I believe the same is applied here, inverted. Feminizing Dr. Barry and The Friend provide an easy escape rope from having difficult conversations about historical trans/gender identity. The words for these identities were not always readily available in the public consciousness, so of course, there is something to be said about tracing transgender roots to places that perhaps the rhetoric was not present.

However, at the end of the day, Dr. James Barry lived and died as a man and The Publick Universal Friend lived and died as a genderless individual. That is the only truth that we know, and the only truth that we can ever know.

Respect someone when they tell you their identity.

Posted by: regisreed | November 13, 2020

Haunting History: Doré’s London, A Pil-GRIM-age

In looking at the London illustrations by Gustave Doré, I was struck by the ways in which many of the works held an eerie quality to them, almost as though they were part of a Victorian Gothic novel. Dark scenery and a heavy play with shadows spoke to Dracula‘s chilling tale, obscure figures to Turn of the Screw ghost stories; the etchings of each image bleeding into the covers of Goosebumps children’s novels. Close analysis of some of these illustrations, that I’ve chosen because of their haunted nature, might give us some interesting ways to think about how drawings open the mind to new interpretations of moments captured in history, different from those captured, for example, by camera. What can an illustration do that a camera might not? Are there some emotions, senses of things, that can only be accessed through an inherently artistic sphere such as an etching or drawing? I don’t have a clear answer for these questions, but I think they might lend some really interesting layers in our discussion of the visual and its role in stories, history, and Victorian life.

“Image 3” – Gustave Doré, London: A Pilgrimage

Image 3, pictured above, was the first to catch my eye, mainly because of the way everything in it molds together. The figures walking down the middle isle melt together as they recede into the background. A male figure to the right, leaning over a pile of fish, blends in with them, and is nearly lost at first glance. These add a muddied quality to the image, and give it a sense of uncanniness, like something is just a bit off. The tightness of the space also lends the image a claustrophobic feeling, highlighted further by the dim lighting and heavy shadows. Almost like a river of bodies, the people move through the isle; the fish sitting on the bank watching them pass by. To the middle left stands a figure with a basket of fish on his head. Commonplace, but from a farther out view his figure morphs and becomes giant, obscure, and borderline monstrous. Paired with the fish all around, it feels almost like a reference to Creature From the Black Lagoon, or something similarly scary.

“Image 10” – Doré, London: A Pilgrimage

Image 10 was another I looked at, drawn as I was to its fogginess and lack of clarity. Whatever was used to make the print left lines running across it, which appear almost to be smoke and give the image a sense of unease, the view becoming wavered by shadow. The moon, working as the only light source, also adds an eerie quality to the image, as it lies just out of reach and unable to break the darkness. Due to this poor lighting, it is difficult to make out which forms are human and which are fog, which lends the photo a ghost like feeling. The second man in on the left has solid black eyes, making his face appear nearly skeletal. Two other figures lean against what appears to be a bar, having the same effect on their faces. All three look ghostly, like specters crowding, and add to this haunted reading. A figure in from the right is similarly ghost-like, disappearing right into the fog as though he were not made of flesh and blood.

“Image 15” – Doré, London: A Pilgrimage

I’m fascinated by the ways that these images rely so heavily on shadow, and have limited light sources, particularly so because of what it does for the image and its tone. Image 15 captured my attention for multiple reasons, the first of which being its etching of buildings. The lining of them have the energy of a Tim Burton film, Gothic and sketch-like; the darkness giving the feeling of horror novel suspense. The lines, stretching vertically, work to convey the idea that the buildings they make up are melting into the street floor, aided further by the streets’ own texture. The reflection of light on the cobblestone highlights the unevenness of it, and gives it a wormy, rotted, wet and damp appearance. The people placed in the image are also of interest, clumped together as they are in small groups. None move through the street, and their attention seems to be one one another or looking into the road, as though waiting for something to happen. They are also all out at night, which seems odd. What are they waiting for? Why are they out of doors? These all add to the tone of the image, which reads as dream-like, dark and opaque.

“Image 27” Doré, London: A Pilgrimage

Image 27 is one of the most odd illustrations in the set, having an uncanniness to it possibly rooted in the way that one can look at it and continue to discover little details. The figure posed on the bed looks directly at the audience, drawing them into the image and creating a sense of uneasiness, as though they were intruding on something secret. His eyes are dark and his facial expression is hard to read, smiling a bit as if amused, but at the same time unreadable. In his hand he holds what appears to be an extended pipe, though at first glace it might read as a cane or wand, it’s end holding a small orb. The candle is placed down, creating harsh shadows upon the faces of everyone in the image, and harkening back to the classic telling of campfire scary stories. The left most figure leans on a crutch, which gives the scene a bit of context; perhaps this is a medical man. Other pieces in the image, such as the herbs hanging on the wall, build on this reading. The black cat, notorious for its supposed connection to witches, is placed on the stairs lining the right side of the illustration, which takes the previous idea of this being a medical man’s home and move it into a place of theoretical witchcraft or the occult. The background figures add to this, their forms shrouded in darkness, fading into it in some cases, and their eyes the same black as the man on the bed. The eeriness of that man, the obscurity of the other figures, and way that they all are looking at the audience, lends the piece a real sense of haunting.

Carmilla - Wikipedia
D.H. Friston, The Dark Blue
File:Frontispiece to Frankenstein 1831.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Frankenstein, Theodor von Holst

For reference, I have placed a few classic Gothic novel images above. Their use of shadow and lighting is incredibly similar to the images I noted from London: A Pilgrimage. The image from Frankenstein even further shows different style choices Doré might have made, like the eyes. In this image, Victor, the man standing, has notable eyes, where as those in the Doré images most often have eyes of full pitch, making them unreadable and scary. The image pulled from Carmilla has Carmilla, the demon vampire, casted in shadow as Lucy, the innocent woman on the bed, is covered in light. This is a pretty standard representation of evil versus good. In London: A Pilgrimage, Doré most often has middle class/poor people in scenes where the lighting is dimmed and shadows dominate, which sets up an interpretation of these classes similarly as evil, or wanting to drain the life, i.e. resources, out of the good and upper class.

What are all these images doing, though? Why are these readings important? I think a possible answer to this lies in the audience the images are intended for. These images are supposed to convey everyday life in Victorian London, and to some extent they are a “real” representation of the middle and poor/working classes to individuals outside of those. If such illustrations are so easily interpreted as uncanny, uneasy, or haunting, then that acts as a representation of the these classes to others. I am wondering if these images might be dangerous, conveying such ideas, and about the ways in which they might lead to harm for these communities. I am also curious about the intentions of Doré, who must have seen the ways that these images resemble so many others done for horror novels and ghost stories of the time. His use of shadow, darkness, and obscurity of figures, all things he had control over, even if limited by the tools he had to work with, manipulates the daily life of the lower classes into a work of fiction.

Posted by: charlottedawn | November 11, 2020

Class, Color, and Costume in Crimson Peak

The second half of this post contains major plot spoilers for the film Crimson Peak. I will try to keep it mostly-spoiler free up until I need to incorporate plot points but will mark where the major spoilers begin.

Guillermo del Toro’s 2015 film Crimson Peak takes place at an unspecified point in the year 1901, in an immediate post-Victorian world. In order to streamline the analysis, I will be primarily focusing on the characters Edith Cushing and Lucille Sharpe, although the costuming of Edith’s father Carter and Lucille’s brother Thomas play heavily into the visual signaling of class as well. While much of the movie’s visual symbolism is less than subtle, the particularities of Crimson Peak’s relationship with class and appearance are remarkably unique and nuanced, particularly for a horror film.

Edith and Lucille are foils both in personality and appearance. This contrast is played up with everything from the soft features, gentle brown eyes, and golden hair of Mia Wasikowska (Edith) to the intense blue eyes and striking dark hair Jessica Chastain (Lucille) dons for the role. Edith is a young woman, 24, from New York, and she is in every way the quintessential metropolitan woman. Her father is a wealthy self-made stonemason, and her clothes are tasteful but unquestionably expensive and modern. Edith is dressed exclusively in cream, gold, and bronze for the first act of the film, an indicator of both her wealth and her comfort in the industry she lives in and around. Lucille, however, is a bit older at 32, and next to Edith and the other young women from New York, both her English mannerisms and outdated style of dress mark her as different. The colors she wears, however, mark her as threatening. While Edith and the other New York women wear the popular Edwardian leg-of-mutton sleeves and looser skirts in lighter fabrics, Lucille remains in her heavy, dark velvet and constricting dresses that seem far more suited to an era twenty years previous.

[Edith and Lucille in the park in Buffalo. The two women have already become acquainted with one another – note the black brooch at Edith’s throat and the ribbon on her hat as well as the white lace on Lucille’s collar and cuffs. While their colors have begun to bleed into one another, Edith maintains a floral motif while Lucille keeps more aggressive shapes.]

Lucille’s brother Thomas appeals to Carter for financial aid in building a clay extractor for his property, which Carter refuses, accusing Thomas of not being a hard worker. Edith witnesses this interaction, and later remarks to her father “Did you notice his suit? It was beautifully tailored, but at least a decade old…. And his shoes were handmade, but worn”. Carter replies that she had observed more than he had, and the two leave it at that. While the Sharpe siblings’ clothes are out of style, they are still dignified and carefully made from expensive materials. The two families’ contrasting styles are contrasted further at the ball Lucille plays piano for, which Edith dances with Thomas to. The women’s dresses are complementary in style but strikingly different. Lucille wears her hair tightly braided against her head with a band of large glass jewels across it, and she is dressed in possibly the most spectacular gown of the film – an intricate, silk, extremely tight blood-red dress with a multi-layered train that pools on the floor around her. Edith also arrives in a silk gown with a train – but hers is cream-colored, looser, and exposes her shoulders, arms and back (unfortunately, I was unable to find a quality image of Edith’s ballgown without the cape). Notably, she also wears strings of pearls across her chest and arms – and unlike Lucille’s flashy glass gems, Edith’s appear to be real.

[Lucille and Edith at the ball. Lucille is visibly constricted up to and above her neck in her suffocating gown, while under the cape, Edith’s is practically strapless, with only two small strings of pearls covering her shoulders, leaving most of her upper body and back exposed.]

A short amount of time later, Edith marries Thomas and returns to his and Lucille’s home in England with him. Their mansion, Allerdale Hall, is cavernous in size but actively decaying. Bright red clay seeps up from the floors and runs down the walls, and a massive hole in the foyer ceiling lets in leaves and, later, snow to collect on the floor. It is in the home that the costuming again progresses to another level, with Lucille greeting the newlyweds in a dress the same color as the walls of the house – a deep Prussian blue. Thomas wears a coat in an identical color and fabric. Edith, however, dons her most striking costume yet – a silk gown in a shade of canary yellow so highly saturated it borders on garish. The brightness of her dress is a far cry from the muted, gentler warm tones she has worn thus far. Not only does this dress follow Lucille’s red one in color intensity, but it features pleated elements at the chest that are reminiscent of Lucille’s gown as well.

[Lucille is back to her thick, heavy velvet and sharp accents (note the thorns adorning the leaves on her top). Edith, however, now wears thicker, heavier silk, this time with large pieces of embroidery on the sleeves and pleated patterns at the front. Although it is difficult to see from this angle, this dress also features a massive black velvet bow that ties at the back of Edith’s neck and is so long that it touches the ground.]


As several months go by, Edith finds herself becoming more and more ill – and the more bitter tea Lucille offers her to soothe her stomach, the sicker she gets. As is revealed through an investigation back in New York, Edith’s father, who died unexpectedly, was murdered, and his fortune has been steadily being drained into the Sharpes’ name in order to fund Thomas’s mining device. This is also not the first time this has happened – Thomas has been married three times before, to women with significant inheritances and no living relatives. The siblings, left penniless by their father with a house that was in too poor condition to sell, were too proud to leave their home, and so have been stealing money from women for the last decade to fund Thomas’s experiments (which have all failed, keeping them poor). This depiction of the lack of wealth turns the conventional “beggar in slums” trope on its head. The Sharpe siblings wear beautiful, well-tailored clothes because they were able to afford them in the past, but all the clothes are visibly worn because they have been unable to afford new ones for over a decade. Despite their appearances, the Sharpes are not wealthy at all, but were at one point in the siblings’ lives, and as such they are stuck in a sort of liminal space where they possess many valuable items, but have no actual money, and are too proud to sell anything they own, and as such have resorted to theft and murder. Edith is their next victim, and while the more empathetic Thomas begins to genuinely fall in love with her, the colder and more pragmatic Lucille increases the doses of poison she administers. While Lucille and Thomas’s costumes continue to mirror each other fairly uneventfully (they mainly rewear the blue and black clothes for the duration of the film), Edith’s clothes begin to change more and more. She does not know it yet, but the Sharpes are actively draining both her finances and her life. Almost all of her inheritance has already been siphoned into Thomas’s inventions, and she has begun coughing up blood nightly from Lucille’s poisoning of her tea. As the Sharpes, the house, and the secrets both of them hide begin to consume her, Edith’s color scheme shifts from her golds and yellows to green, and her light, gauzy fabrics shift into thick embroidered silks and heavy velvets. The darker green her clothes, the more of her life and wealth the Sharpes have bled out of her.

[On the left is Edith early into her stay at Allerdale Hall, wearing a nightgown. While it still has her characteristic yellow, the gown itself is a warm, light green, the shape is extremely structured, and both the high neck and long sleeves look more like Lucille’s clothing than anything Edith has worn yet. On the right, Edith wears a deep green velvet top with a high neck and smaller sleeves than she usually wears. She has been influenced and manipulated by the siblings and, as such, has taken their signature color into her own.]

While more events play out before the film’s dramatic close, the most significant indicators of wealth and class in costuming have already been given to us. Edith, in her golden industrial shades and modern shapes, and the Sharpes, in their dark, heavy fabrics and long-out-of-fashion styles, give the viewer visual cues in their clothing as to their personalities, desires, and secrets.

The costumes for Crimson Peak were designed and executed by Kate Hawley.

Works Cited

Crimson Peak. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, Universal Pictures, 2015.

All images are either promotional photographs or screencaps of the film.

Posted by: scott28k | November 9, 2020

Class and Portraiture in the Victorian Era

Lady Bette Delme is an example of what it was to be a part of the aristocracy in the Victorian era. This portrait of her and her children, painted by Joshua Reynolds in the late 1700s, is not just a painting for painting’s sake; the subject(s) wanted to send a clear message for those who would be viewing it. This genre of painting was called aristocratic portraiture.

Every detail in this portrait is intentional. One of the first details to note, and surely the eye is drawn to it, is Lady Delme’s dress. The vast amount of material, silk and lace, indicates the family’s wealth. Also, her hair is coiffed high on her head. Her son is dressed in rich red velvet. Because he is wearing red, he is the most prominent figure in the portrait. Her daughter looks as if she is dressed in lace, with a touch of silk at her waist.

The way the painter has Lady Delme and her children positioned was deliberate, as well. Her son is posed in the middle, and has the most rouge on his face, as to stand out from the female figures. His presence in the portrait alone is emphasizing him as the male heir, reproduction, health, and from the way he is standing, could have had military influence. Lady Delme has her arm protectively around her children, as if to shield them from harm, especially her male heir. A dog is also in the portrait, looking up at them lovingly. Having a pet in this time period was also a symbol of wealth.

Additionally, the Delmes are sitting for the portrait on their land. One can see that their land is visible as far as the eye can reach. They could have easily sat for the portrait indoors, but making the decision to pose on their land is calculated – they want the viewers to see how much land they own. The trees behind the family are large and tall, indicating that the property may have been passed down to them, and that they are from “old money.” Although each subject is looking in different directions, their gazes, especially Lady Delme’s, have an air, a level of self-assurance, maybe a degree of being smug. There is an ease about them; even though they presumedly were posed for the portrait by the painter. The painter wanted to emphasize the whiteness of the subjects. Which begs the question, how much agency did the family have in this sitting?

Regardless of the choice in this matter, again, a clear message is conveyed through every detail of this portrait, from the clothing, the land, and even the way the subjects are posed. There are various axis of representation here: race, gender, family, ownership. All of those together create a chasm of separation of the aristocracy and the working class. This portrait is a type narrative; a type of performance; a performance of status, wealth, and class. This portrait loudly proclaims their position without saying a word.

Works Cited:

Reynolds, Sir Joshua. Lady Elizabeth Delme and Her Children, 1777-1779. 1779, National Gallery of Art, West Building, Main Floor – Gallery 59.

Posted by: vincentfinch | November 8, 2020

The Power of the Panopticon

The idea of the panopticon, first introduced by philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century, guides nearly all of contemporary Western culture. Though the panopticon was created with the intent of applying it to schools, hospitals, etc, it became most known as a prison design. The panopticon is both an architectural design and a system of control in which a single guard is stationed at a central inspection station equipped with bright lights in a rotunda, so that the guard can keep watch of all prisoners from the same location. Crucially, the stationing of only one guard means that they cannot watch all prisoners at the same time; however, because the prisoners cannot see the guard, they are motivated to act as though they are being watched constantly, simply because they are never sure if they are being watched or not. This means that a very small group of people (even an individual) can exercise control over a very large number of people. The power of the panopticon rests not in constant active surveillance, but in the potential for it. 

The panopticon sneaks its way into a variety of contemporary technologies that we tend to accept as parts of our daily lives. Security cameras in stores, on streets, and at stop lights are always recording and watching, except when they are just the covers with no camera inside. Police cars are stationed along highways ready to check everyone’s speed, except when the cars are empty. Smart assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google are always listening in, recording and processing the information told to them, and sometimes recording information merely told in their presences. In each of these cases, technological advances have resulted in these images and recordings — consolidated into individual profiles — becoming more accurate and harder to opt out of. 

The guard in the panopticon is a god-like figure. The lights on the inspection station are intended to be bright enough to prohibit prisoners from seeing the guard clearly. When they look up towards the tower, they see bright white lights (religious imagery, anyone?) and know that a faceless, all-seeing being ultimately has control. Further, god is often depicted in disguise, with the intent to test their followers. This, too, follows the logic of the panopticon — you never know who god is pretending to be, so you must treat everyone as though they could be them. Who are we positioning as god in contemporary applications of the panopticon? If followers and believers give a deity power, then what are we doing to encourage or discourage them?

Posted by: flannerylangton | November 7, 2020

Pictures (sometimes) need a thousand words

In journalistic settings, it is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words and that a good photograph can stand on its own and tell a story, however, that isn’t always true. Captions lead the viewer to a conclusion and can add a level of truth to a photograph that otherwise might be overlooked. 

When the first photo was taken in 1826, the first image deemed as presenting the exact “real” was created. Because cameras technically capture reality, they became synonymous with journalism, truth, and seeing. Pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words but sometimes without context, they don’t make the sense they should. 

Photo Courtesy of; “interior of the Sikanderbagh after the Slaughter of 2,000 Rebels” by Felice Beato

The photo “interior of the Sikanderbagh after the Slaughter of 2,000 Rebels” by Felice Beato is an example of a photo needing context to be understood more fully. This photo depicts the ruins of an ancient building in British colonial  India as the backdrop to a small group of local people and a white horse who sit, kneel, and stand amongst the bones of presumably their brethren who have been slaughtered by the British 93rd Highlanders and the 4th Punjab regiment. The event took place in late 1857 but the photo was taken in mid 1858. 

The initial view of the photo is horrifying, but in a more subtle way. Without close observation it is easy to pass over the bones as simply debris on the ground. The background too impacts the photo, which when combined with the bones, makes everything in the image feel ancient and unrelated to “current day,” if that was the 1850s. 

In the chapter “Anaesthesis and Violence: A Colonial History of Shock” in his book Afterimage of Empire: Photography in Nineteenth-Century India, scholar Zahid Chaudhary discusses the lack of context and staging of this photo by Beato. About the caption, Chaudhary initially says it “describes what it shows” (73). However, the story of this photo changes as the history of it is recounted by Chaudhary. The photographer arrived in Ludkow too late and “the official ‘history of the mutiny’ had already entered its memorializing stage … Beato ordered full exhumation of the half-buried corpses and posed them in the courtyard of Sikanderbagh” (77). This horrifying story adds the the ruthlessness of British colonization as it even continued in the documenting of it. It also questions if there is any truth at all within this image as it attempts to represent an event that happened months previously. It means this photo is all about aesthetics and not the people involved in the atrocity. Chaudhary begins to question the ethics of that and in response it loses all trace of ethics. Like all colonial acts it is a massive abuse of power as this photograph attempts to write an incorrect history and tell an incorrect story, even if it does attempt to show some aspect of the atrocity. 

Additionally, Chaudhary writes that this photo was originally mis-captioned then printed in London as having been taken on the actual day of the massacre, further complicating the story and the viewer’s interpretation of the image. That seemingly small error forever changed the trajectory of the image as the first viewers would have seen it as fact of the day and a perfect encapsulation of life in India and the actions of the colonial military. In reality, it is dramatized in a way that only removes the importance of the image from the viewer’s immediate thought process. 

In a different vein of misinterpretation (with far less severity), the following photo is frequently shown when discussing the early mechanics of photography. 

Photo courtesy of The Atlantic; A photo of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement. Towards the bottom left are two people, thought to be the first ever photographed.  

This photo is actually a daguerreotype. In 1834, French artist and designer Louis Jaques Mande Daguerre completed the development of the daguerreotype, essentially a type of camera. According to The Atlantic article “The Gift of the Daguerreotype” by Alan Taylor, “The daguerreotype process used a polished sheet of silver-plated copper, treated with iodine to make it light-sensitive, which was exposed (for several minutes or more) under a lens, then “fixed” using mercury vapor.”

This photo of Paris is recognizable through its architecture and street construction. It is immediately peaceful, quiet, and serene–strange for a major city. 

Alan explains that these early pictures had incredibly long exposure times and for this one in particular it was nearly 10 minutes. This meant that anything moving left no trace in the camera lens. It is thought that of the two people visible, one is shining a shoe and the other is getting his shoe shined, meaning they would have stayed in the same place for the needed amount of time. 

This image still is a great example of a very regular thing becoming spooky and haunting as it is strange to see such a bustling and recognizable city almost completely empty. But with the story of the daguerreotype all of that falls away and it becomes interesting and more a feat of technology. 

This wonder does happen in “interior of the Sikanderbagh after the Slaughter of 2,000 Rebels” because of the violence it represents and the horror that laid even in the construction of the photo. There are some places where experimental art is allowed and is ethical, Paris streets are an example of that but in colonizers contexts that shouldn’t be allowed as it only further manipulates the stories. 

So possibly seeing is not believing, not if sight is given without context. It is a misnomer that a photograph alone can showcase truth and reality because even in real life truth and reality do not exist without context.  

Works Cited

Chaudhary, Zahid. “Anaesthesis and Violence: A Colonial History of Shock.” Afterimage of Empire: Photography in Nineteenth-Century India, University of Minnesota Press, 2012, 73-104.

Taylor, Alan. “The Gift of the Daguerreotype.” The Atlantic, . Accessed 6 Nov. 2020.

Posted by: graceoddity | November 6, 2020

Perception, Gaze, and Sensory Dimension in The Piano


I would like to preface this by saying that although The Piano does contain two instances of photography being used in the film’s narrative, the visuality discussed in this post will primarily be removed from a wider sense of visual culture, and will instead be on the smaller scale of visual sensation and gaze. 

The Piano is a film set in colonial New Zealand in the mid-1800s following Ada, who is psychologically mute, and her extramarital affair with local George Baines after she is sold into marriage by her father to Alisdair Stewart. She communicates via sign language, which her young daughter Flora translates, and by playing her piano, which is left on the beach with pieces of their luggage upon her arrival. (Interestingly, she talks about a man from a previous relationship as having heard her voice communicating in his head, which her husband also mentions – both become afraid of her for this as it is unnatural, disorded: perception without stimulus). 

Ada’s mutism reduces her almost purely to the visual. Her modes of communication are the only things which allow her to encroach upon the auditory sphere – her daughter, who allows her to speak, and her piano, which allows her to make music. The piano, although imperfect, is the only mode of expression which belongs wholly to Ada, and which is fully under her control, especially as her daughter becomes more rebellious. This is why the piano is so important to her, and why she enters into her deal with George Baines to exchange sexual favors to get it back.

This deal begins in the visual – at first, Baines simply wants to watch while she plays the piano. He reduces her to a visual object and, by owning the piano, he exerts control over Ada through his possession of the singular mode of expression she truly owns. However, it soon progresses as he demands more of her. His gaze, although implied to treat her as a sexual object, becomes explicitly so when he demands to lay underneath her skirts and look at her legs while she plays. At this point, he reaches out and touches her leg through a small hole in her stockings, and crosses over from solely watching to physical touch. At this point, this abusive transaction he has coerced her into progresses into sexual favors, which she appears uncomfortable with. However, after Baines gives her piano back, calls off their “deal,” and cuts off contact, Ada seeks him out for an affair of her own free will. 

The movie seems to tonally treat their relationship as a romance, and it could be argued that Ada has discovered a new freedom in this expansion into the sensory modality of touch; that like her piano, Ada’s sexual relationship with Baines affords her a multidimensionality beyond vision. Not only is she present beyond the visual, but she is in control of this sensory modality in a way that she is not of how she is perceived; perception is passive, centered in the other, and not always requited, in a way that touch, in this situation, is not. However, although Ada is technically no longer under Baines’ control, he sexually abused her in the past even if he reneged on their “deal” later and gave the piano back. Because of this sexual coercion, I struggle to speak about it in positive terms, or describe their relationship as giving any form of freedom to Ada, but she has chosen this affair in a way she did not choose the marriage she was sold into. 

Amidst this, however, Ada’s husband Alisdair enters the sensate matrix of their affair, as he spies on them through the wall and floorboards. Beyond this initial literal watching, which the viewer does not see repeated, Alisdair functions as surveillance of their relationship throughout the film; he knows of their affair, and keeps tabs on them. Even Ada’s daughter functions as a surveillant apparatus for him, reporting to Alisdair when she finds out her mother is attempting to send a message to Baines. Ada and Baines are aware of his watching, and attempt to conceal their affair for her own good.

Alisdair becomes frustrated that there is no affection of any kind in their marriage, particularly of a sexual nature. Eventually, Ada becomes intimate with him, but does not allow him to touch her – thus, at the only time he has wanted Ada to be more than a visual object, she denies him. In a similar reversal, when Alisdair attempts to rape Ada while she is unconscious, she awakes and makes eye contact, and he freezes. It is unclear what happens next due to a sudden cut after an extreme close up shot of her eyes (emphasizing her watchfulness), but he appears to stop when he realizes she can see him. In a reversal of her husband’s surveillance of her illicit acts, perception is weaponized by the woman who has been the persistent object of an oppressive gaze. 

(Here, I would also like to note that the two instances of photography I referenced earlier as being in the narrative are Alisdair’s possession of Ada’s portrait which he checks his reflection in, and a wedding portrait he makes her sit for, both of which occur at the beginning of the movie before the affair. Not necessarily relevant beyond the fact that they signify his possession her image, but amid all of our discussion of photography, I feel it would be remiss of me to not mention them).

Lastly, I would like to move away from the sensory dimensions of Ada’s relationships, and talk instead about the visuality of the movie’s final image. As Ada, Flora, and Baines leave New Zealand by boat, Ada’s piano weighs the boat down. She tells them to throw it overboard, and after protest from Baines, he agrees to do so. As the piano sinks, it pulls a coiled rope from the boat; Ada steps on the rope so that it tangles around her ankle, and pulls her down with the piano. After sinking quite deep, she changes her mind about this suicide attempt, unties her leg, and swims to the surface. The piano sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Ada’s voiceover, after describing her new life with Baines, says that sometimes she thinks about her piano, and imagines herself floating above it. We see an image of the piano at the bottom of the sea, with Ada’s floating body tethered to it. The voiceover goes on to say that it is still and silent, and she imagines this at night to lull herself to sleep. This image of Ada’s body is overwhelmingly passive in its visuality, but the silence here is comforting to her instead of oppressive. This is because the visuality is wholly within her possession; the dead Ada of this still image exists only in her mind’s eye, sealed internally to be looked at, heard, perceived in any way, by no one but herself. She says: “It is a weird lullaby, and so it is: it is mine.” Ada is finally, at least in some internal sense, in possession of her own image.

Works cited:
The Piano. Directed by Jane Campion, Jan Chapman Productions/CiBy 2000, 1993.

As readers of Othello would know, the ocular proof can be badly abused. Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “A Scandal in Bohemia” occupied by stalking, overseeing and disguising presents various visual practices that shed light on the problems in ways of seeing.
Voyeur? Prying from outside the window
The window is a nexus between the private and public spheres. Its transparency seems to expose the dweller unconscious of an outdoor observer. Standing below Holmes’ window, the dweller becomes a passive subject of Watson’s gaze: “[his] rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as [Watson] looked up, [Watson] saw his tall spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind.” On the next day we find Holmes outside Briony Lodge, prying into the windows of Irene Adler. The “machine” observes his subjects in the house with his “high-power lenses”. However, what he captures is no different from silhouettes, for the internal content of his subjects remains dark, solid, and therefore indecipherable. As Watson demonstrates, the brighter the surroundings, the darker the person. If the scandal of Adler and the King of Bohemia is about a private photo misplaced in public, what they would have faced a publicly practised voyeurism. As the torrent of public opinion surrounds them, their individual character is increasingly neglected and invisible and their images nailed based on an ephemeral moment in life.
Portraitist? Painting pictures in the mind
Other than spatial implications, the story also has highly visualising descriptive language. Watson meticulously and closely describes the costume of the King of Bohemia on his first arrival at 221B Baker Street, generalising the impression as “barbaric opulence”. He also deduces the King’s “strong character” from his weighty appearance. Although his description paints a thorough picture of the King, here he assumes the position no different from the coloniser who fancies the exotic as the barbaric (the characterisation of Irene Adler also has exotic undertones). The dichotomy between the visual and the mental is also underlined and confused through the King’s description of Irene Adler: “she has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men”. It is as if beauty is a natural inclination of women and intellect is exclusive for men. Watson and the King’s textual (re)creations of the pictures they see undergo their own biases, revealing the disparity between different mediums. As they introduce people unknown to their audience, they assume the role of a portraitist who, merges his own perspective with the image of his subject. Sometimes mental pictures are painted before proven by visual evidence. For instance, Watson says that “[the] house [of Irene Adler] was just such as I had pictured it from Sherlock Holmes’ succinct description”, and Holmes is sure about the identity of Godfrey Norton at first glance through his correspondence with former descriptions.
Disguiser? Learning the truth through writing
Watson describes Holmes’ disguise as clergyman as such: “[his] expression, his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime.” Holmes’ disguise borrows a social identity while not assuming its function and responsibility. It is a visual mimesis that relies on stereotypical traits of a certain group, which only tricks the eye. He attempts to use this strategy to finally steal the photo from Irene Adler’s house, only to find the latter more professional than him. Disguise reveals the constructiveness of identity and of reality, something that Holmes attributes to writing, through which the final truth is ironically revealed to him. In the beginning of the story, he rightly deduces the identity of the King of Bohemia through his letter. However, when he converses with the King, he is in total disbelief with writing:
[King:]“There is the writing.”
[Holmes:] “Pooh, pooh! Forgery.”
[King:]“My private note-paper.”
[Holmes:] “Stolen.”
[King:]“My own seal.”
[Holmes:] “Imitated.”
Conscious of the disguise of words, Holmes turns to the ocular proof. However, as a sophisticated disguiser, he should learn the latter’s authenticity is rather parallel to the former, instead of complementary.

Works Consulted
Primary source:
Doyle, Arthur Conan. “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Strand Magazine, July, 1891. E-version by Stanford Continuing Studies, 2016.
Secondary sources:
Colin, Williamson. “The Curious Case of Sherlock Holmes.” Hamlet Lives in Hollywood: John Barrymore and the Acting Tradition Onscreen, edited by Murray Pomerance and Steven Rybin, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2017, pp. 35–46.
Miller, Elizabeth Carolyn. “Private and Public Eyes: Sherlock Holmes and the Invisible Woman.” Framed: The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin De Siecle, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2008, pp. 25–69.

Posted by: Lily R | November 2, 2020

Staging a Scandal in Sherlock Holmes

In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the concepts of truth and claim are obscured for both the characters and the reader. Individuals such as the King and Holmes engage in disguise, and the objectivity of portraiture is called into question. When the King originally tells Holmes and Watson about the portrait of Irene Adler, the detectives are unalarmed about its existence. However, when it comes to light that both Adler and the King are pictured in the photograph — and that Adler plans to use it for extortion — its seriousness is multiplied. In this short story, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle uses these moments of obscurity to build a scandal which remains largely unclear to the reader but nevertheless assumes massive importance within the text.

In order to build the suspense and elevation of this scandal, Conan Doyle begins by validating the investigative skills of Sherlock Holmes. He is propped up as a genius through his observations of Watson’s incompetent maid and the number of stairs leading to his apartment. When the King enters in disguise, therefore, the reader is already expectant that Holmes will discover his identity. I believe that Conan Doyle chose to introduce the King in disguise in order to dually prove Holmes’ skills and to align the King with trickery and deceit.

The King is implicated in the scandal with Adler in many different ways — he tells Holmes about letters, personal papers, stamps, and photographs — but the only significant form in this story is the portrait depicting both him and Adler. This is a subset of the era this story was written in, as there are now forms of technology which would work to discredit this portrait, such as Photoshop. In some ways, therefore, the scandal is staged by Adler, as she introduces importance to the form of the portrait. If Adler did not tell the King her intentions for the photograph, the scandal would not have come to light and the story would not be written.

I also think it is important to consider the individuals left outside of this story’s narrative. Holmes, being a well-propped-up and trained detective, should have reasonably considered individuals who are also intertwined with the scandal, such as the photographer and the printer. However, Conan Doyle left these individuals out of the narrative in order to better stage the drama of the short story. To the reader, oversights such as this appear relatively obvious, but the author maintains the authority to introduce (or refuse to introduce) complications such as this. In this way, Conan Doyle, is also complicit in the scandal, as his role allowed him to stage a truth claim similar to Adler’s.

Because of the way objectivity and truth are represented through portrait evidence in this story, Holmes is given power when he takes the portrait at the end. The story is framed to view him as a trustworthy protagonist, despite his failed investigation and constant deception throughout the text. If the reader’s perception came from Adler, Holmes may be viewed as the subject of a scandal himself. Because of Conan Doyle’s staging, however, Holmes is entrusted with the evidence with little consideration from surrounding characters or the reader.

This story complicates the ideas of objectivity, truth claim, and scandal by proving that trust can be manipulated depending on who stages the scene. We see this through the King’s explanation of the portrait, the consideration of the photographer and outside parties, and Conan Doyle’s own vision of Holmes as a benevolent genius.

Posted by: sataniques | November 2, 2020

The Masculinization of Dorian Gray

Tracking the representation of Dorian Gray is an extremely daunting undertaking. Luckily, another student had done some of the heavy lifting in this blog post for the class during 2013. Meg M provides references to Dorian’s many interpretations. I am grateful for the help in the detective work of uncovering the picture, so to speak, of Dorian Gray. I am also going to be talking about femmephobia (the concept of anti-femininity, a rejection of gender expressions that could be related to femininity) in specifically gay, mostly cis, male culture and how it is replicated and reinvented throughout history and in adaptations of Dorian Gray. I am very appreciative of the concept of adaptation, and think they are valid, this is simply a study on a pattern that I have noticed throughout this multiplicity of Dorian Gray. [Content warning for some homophobic language and rhetoric about sex]

[A photo collage of many different masculine, some bearded, and angular interpretations of Dorian Gray from various media, with a quote from the book in the center and question marks placed throughout. I made this monstrosity.]

The Masculinization of Dorian Gray
When I had first become interested in The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was at once taken with his image description in the novel. He is introduced to the reader as “certainly, wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair […] All the candor of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity” (Wilde, 19). He seemed to be a Botticelli-angel, and his softness was often written about throughout the story. Every other line saw Dorian’s bright eyes widening, his beautiful lips parting, or his youthful face lighting up. Lord Henry states that he is a “young Adonis, who looks as if he was made out of ivory and rose-leaves” (Wilde, 7). He also ends this thought with the statement, “beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins […] your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture really fascinates me, never thinks […] he is some brainless, beautiful creature” (Wilde, 7) which brands Dorian as, forgive me, a Victorian himbo1. It is also here that Dorian is described as having, what is societally considered, a “femininity” about him. The correlation between femininity and brainlessness requires attention that this post cannot give.

For this post, I will be exploring The Picture of Dorian Gray through a queer-theory lens2, thus revealing that the relationship Basil Hallward, Dorian Gray and Lord Henry have is an envy-ridden ménage à trois between melodramatic gays of the enlightenment. The scarlet lips, rose-leaf features and crisp golden curls all lead to Dorian: the effeminate homosexual. Which, I might add, is not a negative thing. Wilde’s description of Dorian was a positive representation of a very valid gay visuality that has been increasingly warped over time to fit the homosexual-nouveau, masc4masc style. Dorian has been continually represented instead as a “tall, dark and handsome” type on screen and stage, in comic and novel cover… Google image search will bring a barrage of dapper-Dorians but will return only a handful of angelic, soft featured femboys.

“[T]hey feared that what they had begun to view as Greek effeminacy would be a bad influence on young Roman men. This is also reflected in Cato’s complaint in Polybius’s history, wherein Cato laments that a pretty boy slave could command a higher price than fields” (Rocque, 2020)

I will pull back from Dorian for the moment to contextualize my thesis: There is a masculinity problem in gay male spaces, and I do not mean a lack of it. Gay male masculinity has been a contentious topic since ancient periods in history, notably with the quote above about Cato the Elder. It is important to focus on visuality here: some in Roman society feared the feminization of their culture based on the Greek aesthetic experiences such as philosophy, art and literature, thinking these things could lead to effeminacy of men. It should be stated that Cato the Elder was not concerned with homosexuality itself, but that a “pretty boy slave” could be of more interest to a man than the masculine art of agriculture (pastoralism). Likewise, he did not concern himself with homosexual relations but did concern himself with representations of femininity. Notably, though, Hellenistic visual masculinity was still coveted.

The relationship between Grecian, Roman and Victorian-England visuality is further explored in a passage from London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914 by Matt Cook. He writes, “[b]oth Hellenism and pastoralism promised stability, a counter to degeneracy and a clearer idea of national identity. They heralded other spaces, including Athens, Arcadia and the English greenwood, and used the muscular body as a symbol of health, vitality, personal endeavor and self-restraint. At a time when fears about the city were focused on the degenerate, criminal, prostituted and effeminate body, these versions of corporeal perfection provided an important counter. An athletic physique could signify not only personal vitality, but also national strength and prowess” (Cook, 124). 

[Image of Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray from the 2003 film League of Extraordinary Gentleman, with clips of Masc4Masc app messages superimposed over him. I created this and used the messages from this article]

Is this not representative of modern day misogynistic masculinity? That one fit bod can be so visually powerful that it strengthens a nation? The further one can get from male effeminacy, the closer one can get to heterosexual assimilation, to be taken seriously in the eyes of the majority power. I believe this is a root of femmephobia.

My curiosity with masculinizing Dorian Gray started when I came out and was faced with the phrase “masc4masc” as well as “no fats, no femmes, no asians, no trans” on various gay-apps. Being that I am not just one, but all of those adjectives, I became disillusioned and bitter about my place within gay male culture. Gay men seem to be increasingly courting the safety of heterosexual passing privilege. This is not new, however. Again, from London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914, “[w]hilst masculinity and middle class status of the [gay] men in the case studies made them sharers in the heterosexual progressive culture, their newly consolidated inverted identity aligned them with space and a cyclical temporality[…]describe[d] as “woman’s time”” (Cook, 83).

[A photo of Peter Firth as a true-to-novel Dorian Gray in the 1976 film adaptation, standing in front of his portrait and looking into the camera. Taken from here]

So, why is Dorian Gray subjected to this? This led me to academic research on the topic and a growing need to examine the aforementioned roots of femmephobia. I started earlier than Dorian though, with Victor Hugo’s 1845 Les Miserables, and specifically, with the character of Enjolras. Similar to Dorian Gray, Enjolras has suffered masculinization over the years. Author Ellie Valsin has delved into this topic in much the same way, compiling a list of defemmed Enjolras’ throughout history []. Enjolras is described in the original text as a man with “long fair lashes, blue eyes, hair flying in the wind, rosy cheeks, pure lips, and exquisite teeth” (Hugo). He is also notably blonde, uninterested in the affections of women, and has a very close “friend”, Grantaire. The physical characteristics between these two, and their subsequent “tall, dark and handsome” representations, are quite intriguing.

It is easier to disguise the homosexuality of a protagonist if they are stripped of their femininity, as is the case with Enjolras and Dorian.

However. The most important part of this blog post is here: Though the masculinized Dorian Gray tends to have dark hair and eyes, that absolutely does not mean that people of color cannot wholly represent a soft, feminine Dorian. The bigger question is: Why are interpretations of Dorian so white? This swarthy, rakish white man is replicated time and time again but there is a glaring lack of POC representation for Dorian. People of color and in particular, black gay men and women have endured involuntary masculinization as well– There are ongoing campaigns to embrace and support black male femininity on and off of the internet, so the lack of any black Dorian is glaring, especially in the face of masculinizing him.

Interestingly, the single greatest representation that I have ever seen of Dorian Gray is Chip Sherman’s portrayal in Book-It theater’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

[A photograph of Chip Sherman as Dorian Gray from Book-It Theater’s 2018 stage production. He is a black man with delicate features, in a pristine white suit, with two other actors standing behind him. Taken from here.]

This beautiful person embodies every part of Dorian’s literary physical description absolutely. His features are soft, youthful and angelic. His hair mirrors the crisp curls and lips are rose-petal realness. Sherman is the most delicate Dorian I have seen since Peter Firth in 1976. While doing research for this post, I had originally collected a series of images from Renaissance paintings depicting angelic subjects of color to discuss my point but was greeted instead with this delightful Dorian!

[A photograph of Chip Sherman as Dorian Gray in Book-It Theater’s 2018 stage production. He is looking off-camera, showing his makeup of blushed cheeks and reddened lips. Taken from here]

Of course, as it always seems to be, the black community and actors of color are doing the heavy lifting for greatness. I have not had the pleasure to see this production, but am enamored with the visuality that is represented in these promotional photos.

Gay culture is forever changing, and as minds begin to hopefully broaden once again in relation to gay male femininity, I hope to see more soft, rosy-cheeked Dorians in the future, with pouting lips and pretty curls. Commanding the attention of the audience because of his youthful femininity, not in spite of it.

1 Himbo- A portmanteau of the words him and bimbo, is a slang term for an attractive but vacuous man.

2 Queer Theory- Textual interpretations which are presented from a queer perspective. 

Works Cited

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York, Signet Classics, 1972.

Cook, Matthew. London and The Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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