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Sexuality and the Gothic Magic Lantern
Desire, Eroticism and Literary Visibilities from Byron to Bram Stoker
David J. Jones
Publication Date February 2014
This fascinating study explores the multifarious erotic themes associated with the magic lantern shows, which proved the dominant visual medium of the West for 350 years, and analyses how the shows influenced the portrayals of sexuality in major works of Gothic fiction. It offers vivid, new readings of works as varied as Charlotte Brönte's Villette and Bram Stoker's Dracula, and even uses clues suggested by magic lantern references to discover the meaning of the amorous entanglement described in the last extant stanzas of Byron's Don Juan. The first book-length consideration of the erotic associations connected with lantern shows, Jones reinstates the lanterns' importance for past generations in their visualization and expression of diverse sexualities and argues that an understanding of these influences serves fundamentally to change our reading of Gothic literature.
Villette (1853) is one of the most enigmatic and finely crafted novels of the early Victorian era, replete with libidinal tension, rage and hidden conspiracies. George Eliot, no mean critic of novelistic skill, wrote of it: ‘I am only just returned to a sense of the real world about me, for I have been reading Villette, a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre.’ It is a book which, at times, combines an outrage of Blakean proportions against those social forces that deny sexual fulfilment with an Austenesque anger against the commodification of women. It also anticipates the unresolved sexual longing and problematic open ending of Great Expectations (1860–61), and the main target of Brontë’s rage is the same as that of Dickens’s novel: the betrayal of love and manipulation of young people by their elders.