Concerning Madness

In accordance with the topic of “madness” as found in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the poems My Last Duchess and Porphyria’s Lover continue this trend of a character finding pleasure in hurting and killing another human being.  While the first poem is more subtle, with the act of murder occurring before the poem’s time frame, and the second being more vivid as the murder occurs within the poem; both give details about the abnormal psychology of each speaker.

Of course, I say abnormal by today’s standards of psychology.  It’s important to keep in mind that these people would still be considered criminals in their time, and of highly immoral character; but in our time, there’s a chance they would be considered mentally ill.  They way the speaker of the first poem talks casually about how his duchess use to be when she was alive is eerie, because the taint of jealousy he had toward her is present in lines 21-24, “She had/A heart — how shall I say? — too soon made glad,/ Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er/She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.”(Duchess 21-24) Also, adding to his disgust was him giving her his name, which, according to him, she disrespected, “as if she ranked/My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name/With anybody’s gift.” (Duchess 32-35) He seems to have no remorse when he gets rid of her, or rather, has someone do away with her , “This grew; I gave commands;/Then all smiles stopped together.” (Duchess 45-46) These two lines seem to confirm the suspicion that she is indeed, dead, if there was any doubt left, especially when considered with one of the first lines, “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,/Looking as if she were alive.”

In the second poem, the speaker takes an intimate moment, between, what appears to be two lovers, “Be sure I look’d up at her eyes/Happy and proud; at last I knew /Porphyria worshipp’d me; surprise/Made my heart swell, and still it grew/While I debated what to do./That moment she was mine, mine, fair,/Perfectly pure and good;” (Lover 31-37) Then, the speaker of the poem does something unexpected, “I found/A thing to do, and all her hair/In one long yellow string I wound/Three times her little throat around,/And strangled her. No pain felt she;/I am quite sure she felt no pain.”(Lover 37-42) The intent for the murder is not as clear as in the first poem, but the fact that he lays with the corpse after the crime is committed is quite a strange image, and would be considered abnormal behavior that points to a mentally ill person.

One thing that I don’t think we’ve discussed in class much is the treatment and perception of the mentally ill in the Victorian time.  These poems are pre-freudian, as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I would guess there was a lot condemnation of the mentally ill as “just another criminal.” I would also guess that the church’s influence also played a role in characterizing some as plainly “evil” though that may not have been the case.  These poems retain their creepy feel because we are let inside the mind of a killer, but I would say that in Victorian times they held darker tones because they didn’t have an understanding of the mind as we have come to generally accept.

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One Response to Concerning Madness

  1. joesx says:

    Actually, I NOW remember talking about Bertha from “Jane Eyre.” We’ve discussed her entrapment in comparison to women and Jane herself, and how and why she became mad. From that, if you guys remember, we talked about how Bertha’s origin being “from bad genes” as it was rationalized by other characters in the book, and also because she was female and of black descent. This gives us some insight into the views concerning madness from the time.

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