Mastery and Slavery in Victorian Writing by Jonathan Taylor (auth.)

By Jonathan Taylor (auth.)

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Extra resources for Mastery and Slavery in Victorian Writing

Sample text

This is not life-and-death violence, however: Collins’ master–servant relationship is based on forms of violence that are un-Hegelian. One of these is the peculiarly non-confrontational and non-face-to-face violence, which is ‘sodomy’. 20 Indeed, the text seems to imply actual sodomy as well, since it is evident from his description of Fairlie that Hartright feels sexually threatened by his master. He notes that Fairlie’s ‘feet were effeminately small, and were clad in … little womanish bronze-leather slippers….

What is so significant about Carlyle’s notion of sham-mastery is its implications for a Hegelian view of history, implications which, again, Lacan points out. If power is only ever contingent, never absolute, if revolution is merely overturning, and thus continuation of sham-mastery in another form, the Hegelian and Marxian dialectical view of historical progress becomes inconceivable. For Hegel, the master–slave relationship represents an originary dialectic from which the vast historical dialectics he describes develop.

A castration trauma, Freud argues, typically results from a child’s first experience of the mother’s possession by the father. The moment in The Woman in White when Marian reveals to Hartright Laura’s previous engagement can be read as a kind of primal scene, and Hartright’s subsequent capitulation to Marian’s wishes seen as a metaphoric castration. ’27 Marian stands in for Laura’s real father, who ‘sanctioned … on his death-bed’ (72) Laura’s and Percival’s engagement. Hartright consequently witnesses prior connections between Laura and her father, Laura and Percival, and – perhaps most significantly – Laura and Marian.

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