Table of Contents
2. Werewolves in Western Culture
3. What Monsters Tell Us About Identity-Formation
4. The Werewolf in Selected Short Narratives of the Nineteenth Century
4.1 ‘Beasts Without’: the Werewolf as Cultural ‘Other’
4.2 ‘Beasts Below’: the Werewolf as Working-Class Member
4.3 ‘Beasts Above’: the Werewolf as Debauched Aristocrat
4.4 ‘Beasts in White’: the Female Werewolf
4.5 ‘Beasts Within’, or: “Much deeper in the nature of man”
6. Works Cited
7. List of Illustrations
The nineteenth century has come up with many monsters, and for some time already they have been studied with regard to their contribution to the formation of a ‘genuine’ notion of identity and subjectivity in the nineteenth century. Frankenstein’s monster e.g. has been interpreted as man’s quest for enlightenment, but also as a warning against his striving to control life and nature; the vampire in general has been understood as the resurgence of man’s latent sexuality, which in the nineteenth century was still ‘demonised’; Dracula, moreover, symbolises the fear of the British that occupied countries and cultures might one day strike back. It comes as a surprise, then, that one monster has largely been overlooked in critical discourse, presumably because of its affiliation to the Pulp Fiction tales of the 1920s: the werewolf. It is therefore the aim of my paper to show that that has not happened justly, and that, moreover, it is quite worthwhile and interesting to take a look at the werewolf motif - in the nineteenth century, in particular.
For that reason, I will first of all give a brief survey of the history of the werewolf in occidental culture, which is necessary, for it shows that the literary werewolf of the nineteenth century does not really resort to its predecessors - literary or otherwise - and therefore ‘reinvents’ itself. After that - drawing on the theories of transgression by Peter Stallybrass and Allon White as summarised by Chantal Bourgault du Coudray - I shall explain how monsters such as the werewolf reflect and, consequently, help illuminate the intricate ways in which identity was constructed in the nineteenth century. Chapter four, then, will be concerned with the analysis of a substantial number of werewolf stories by authors ranging from classics such as Robert L. Stevenson over Gilbert Campbell, Frederick Marryat and Clemence Housman to authors that have sunk into almost entire obscurity like Barry Pain and Count Eric Stenbock. Here, I will begin by establishing a set of different werewolves to get an overview of which ‘types’ of werewolves can be found in nineteenth century literature. While doing that, I will also deal with the functions of those werewolf depictions with regard to identity-formation: what does this werewolf tell us about the way the ruling class - which in nineteenth century England is the male middle class - views itself; which fears does that werewolf mirror?
I want to advance a couple of claims. They have to do with the werewolf being presented as a threat almost always coming from outside the middle-class sphere: as a cultural ‘Other’; a member of the working class; a decadent aristocrat; and as a seductive and potentially dangerous woman. But towards the end of the century, we also find another, a new kind of werewolf, one not emanating from outside the middle class, but one originating inside it and therefore threatening to upset it from within.
2. Werewolves in Western Culture
The term werewolf is derived from the old Germanic words wer meaning man and wolf meaning - obviously - wolf}1 It is not really possible to pinpoint when it was used the first time; however, what we do know is that werewolves have played a major part in western culture for more than two millennia. In ancient times, many authors would speak of shape-shifting beings, often only in passing and giving their personal opinions on the degree of truth inherent to the stories. In the Middle Ages, perception of the werewolf changed slightly, with the appearance of a sympathetic and pathetic werewolf which the reader is supposed to feel pity with. In late Antiquity and in the early Middle Ages - with Christianity arriving in Europe - debates arose as to the status of a werewolf in God’s plan of creation and as to the actual possibility of conducting a physical transformation from man to beast and vice versa. It is this critical discourse that I am going to focus on first. A very good overview of the topic can be found in Roberts (572f.) and Hertz (8-10).
Augustine, one of the most influential church-fathers, claimed that a literal transformation from man to beast was impossible and merely a trick the devil played to make the werewolf and the onlookers believe there was a physical change. This view was weighty, for it denied werewolves being made responsible for their affiliation with the devil - after all, it was not their fault Satan chose to make them think they were werewolves. Moreover, Augustine’s position was so influential that it lasted until the early modern period when numerous books were published on the powers of sorcerers, witches, werewolves and the devil, one of the most famous ones being the Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer, published in 1486, which decreed that the devil only had power over his victim if the victim chose to grant him that power. This gave the Inquisition the divine right to exact godly justice upon those ‘in league with the devil’. Accordingly, many men - and some women - were burned at the stake for being werewolves.
Conversely, there was also another approach to ‘werewolfism’: in the ninth century, a physician by the name of Marcellus Sidetes claimed that believing oneself to be a werewolf did not have anything to do with the devil, demons or witches, but was a mental disease. And although he did find some followers in the course of the next few centuries, his theory was largely neglected in ‘Christianity-ridden’ and ‘supernatural-crazed’ medieval Europe. It was not until Jung and Freud came up with the idea of the subconscious and - more explicitly - the ‘Wolfman’ that Sidetes’ view found critical acclaim again (cf. Hertz 8-10). Their combined efforts led to the still valid distinction:
Bis auf den heutigen Tag bezeichnet Werwolf einen Menschen, der sich körperlich in einen Wolf verwandelt, während ein an Lykanthropie Leidender dem krankhaften Wahn unterliegt, ein Wolf zu sein.
As I have already stated above, fictional texts including werewolves are plentiful, particularly in ancient times: authors who made use of this motif in their stories and myths include Ovid, Apollodorus, Herodotus, Pliny the Elder, Apollas, Varro, Pausanias, and Nicolaus of Damascus. The story of Lycaon, the Arcadian king who serves Zeus/Jupiter a meal of human flesh and is turned into a wolf as punishment, was highly popular - hence the term lycanthropy. It is transmitted in numerous different versions, the most well-known one being Ovid’s retelling in his Metamorphoses. Shape-shifting in those ancient stories often took place according to the same patterns: the werewolf had to take off his human clothes to get rid of his humanity; he had to display cannibalistic features, i.e. eat human flesh, willingly; he was transformed by an enraged deity; or it was simply his destiny to prowl the woods as a wolf for a certain period of time (cf. Roberts 565-567). However, that last one was a rather rare reason: usually, werewolves in ancient tales are depicted as evil monsters; their feelings towards being a shape-shifter are not related, but the reader gets the feeling that they quite enjoy that state. The importance of ancient werewolves lies in their establishing of certain conventions that would still be used centuries later, such as the taking off of clothes and the inward growing hair, which was believed to be a striking characteristic of the shape-shifters. The silver bullet to kill a werewolf came much later.
In the Middle Ages - especially the high Middle Ages 1100-1350 - fiction confronts us with a new development. Although Varney claims that in “this century [the 20th century; M. M.] we’ve seen an unprecedented approach: the werewolf as a pathetic victim”, we are actually obliged to acknowledge Roberts’ position who declares:
Anhand der uns zur Verfügung stehenden Werke läßt sich ein grundsätzlicher Unterschied zwischen den Werwolf-Darstellungen der Antike und denen des 12. Jahrhunderts feststellen: aus dem Werwolf als Übeltäter wurde der Werwolf als Opfer eines Fluches (Roberts 568)
The old principles are still adhered to, of course, but we bump into a new kind of beast, too: the sympathetic werewolf who is not evil and does not do any appalling things. Typically, he is of noble birth, and a just and righteous person. Being an essentially good character, the authors had to come up with new ideas for his turning into a wolf - naturally, consuming human flesh could not hold any longer; so they decided that their werewolves would be the victims of curses undeserved or unexplained. An example would be Marie de France’s Bisclavret (twelfth century); another, the anonymously published twelfth-century Guillame de Palerne, which was introduced into the English language as William and the Werewolf in the fourteenth century. The story narrates the events that befall a young noble couple on their adventures, and how the eponymous hero is looked after by a benevolent and quite endearing werewolf, who in the end turns out to be a Spanish prince. This story was so popular and high-ranking that it was still read in the nineteenth century1.
The following few centuries saw a decline of fictional werewolf literature, and it was not until 1710 that the werewolf made a reappearance: “Laurent Bordelons Monsieur Oufle stellt eine Reaktion auf die Jahrhunderte der Hexenjagd dar” (Roberts 575). The work is an epitome of Enlightenment thought, and the protagonist is a silly buffoon who believes in anything people tell him. The werewolf here is not a real werewolf - it is simply a means to make fun of the main character and of those people prone to irrational thought. Thus, we are confronted with a somewhat humorous approach to werewolves.
Taking a look at the literature of the nineteenth century, it is indeed surprising to see that, although the werewolf would have made brilliant material for the Gothic novel, it hardly appears in one: Charles Maturin’s The Albigenses (1824) employs one werewolf - a very minor character - which initially helps the hero but afterwards tries to kill him. The cheap, mass-produced horror literature commonly referred to as Penny Dreadfuls found the figure more appealing: George W. M. Reynolds dedicated a whole book to it - Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf - a riveting yarn of blood and madness, published in Reynold’s Miscellany in numerous instalments from 1846-1847. Other than that, it was mainly short narratives that made use of the werewolf, creating a considerable amount of werewolf varieties and sometimes even ‘psychologising’ it.
So befreite sich der Werwolf im 19. Jahrhundert zum erstenmal von seinen antiken und volkstümlichen Vorläufern; die Werwolf-Literatur erlebte eine Blütezeit mit einer Vielzahl von Varianten. Ein Grund hierfür war sicherlich, daß die Autoren [glaubten,] sich nicht mehr auf überlieferte und seit Generationen wieder und wieder erzählte Geschichten stützen zu müssen. Dies ermöglichte es ihnen, Werwolf-Typen nach ihren ganz eigenen Vorstellungen zu entwickeln.
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
In the following chapter I will therefore try and determine some of those types and I will elucidate which functions the individual werewolf depictions served.
3. What Monsters Tell Us About IdentityFormation
Bourgault du Coudray in her monumental work on the werewolf throughout the ages - The Curse of the Werewolf - declares that the Gothic has been read primarily as a discourse about identity and/or subjectivity, a reading that has emerged from a theoretical focus on the ways in which the Self is constructed through processes of ‘Othering’.
(Bourgault du Coudray, Curse 44)
This process of ‘Othering’ consists of a certain group of people, in this case the assurgent middle class, un- or subconsciously establishing a set of characteristics they do not want to be associated with. Those characteristics are afterwards projected onto a recurring pattern which then embodies everything the members of the defining group consider to be bad, and which they therefore want to exclude from their notions of reality. Naturally, they also intend to distance themselves from that ‘Other’, which is usually a monster or something similar - in any case: a grotesque, which, already by definition, violates the norms of reality as perceived by the ruling group. The problem is just that, at the same time, that group does not approve of too many boundaries. Subsequently, they engage in a process of balancing, adjusting and clearing. Thereby, the striving to exclude certain ideas from sets of social norms frequently leads to the absorption of just those ideas: they are taken over and implemented into the own social identity, and eventually form an even more grotesque, hybrid creature. Or, as Stallybrass puts it: a fundamental mechanism of identity formation produces the second, hybrid grotesque [...] by the very struggle to exclude the first grotesque. [...] The point is that the exclusion necessary to the formation of social identity [...] is simultaneously a production [...] of a complex hybrid fantasy emerging out of the very attempt to demarcate boundaries, to unite and purify the social collectivity.
Strangely, such a reading has not been applied on the figure of the werewolf, yet, although “Gothic narratives condensed myriad anxieties about identity into the bodies of monsters” (Bourgault du Coudray, Citizens 2). For that reason, it is obvious that what applies to Frankenstein’s monster, the vampire, Machen’s Great God Pan and others also applies to the werewolf:
[M]aterial relating to the werewolf in every period has been informed by prevailing cultural values and dominant ways of knowing or speaking about the world.
In this sense, texts about werewolves can be read as indices of the way in which ‘reality’ has been assessed, described and constructed at different moments in history.
(Bourgault du Coudray, Curse 2)
To see how the werewolf motif reflects reality in nineteenth century Britain is the aim of the following chapter.
4. The Werewolf in Selected Short Narratives of the Nineteenth Century
The next five sub-chapters will be concerned with different werewolf types and the male, middle-class fears they represent. A few words on the term short narrative: The text corpus I quote from comprises seven narratives of varying length, ranging from only a few pages, as in the case of Mrs. Hugh Fraser’s A Werewolf of the Campagna, to longer texts of fifty
1 For a thorough discussion of the etymology of the word werewolf, see Hertz, Der Werwolf, pp. 3f. and Summers, The Werewolf, pp. 1-21.
2 Cf. Darton, Harvey F. J.: “William and the Werewolf”. In: Valentine, Mark (ed.): The Werewolf Pack. An Anthology. Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2008, pp. 92-119
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- Ruhr-Universität Bochum
- 2010 (Juni)
- Werewolf 19th Century Stevenson The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Monster; Literary Motif Identity Formation