‘ Classic realist narrative turns on the creation of enigma through the precipitation of disorder which throws into disarray the conventional cultural and signifying systems…But the story moves inevitably towards closure which is also disclosure, the dissolution ot the enigma through the reestablishment of order…’ ( Belsey, Critical Practice)
Thinking about Edwin Drood last week with its dramatic investment in the exotic through the use of opium with John Jasper and the ‘orient’ through the characterisation of the Landless siblings, I was struck by something obvious but illuminating: the name ‘landless‘ suggests both unanchored ‘homelessness’ as well as freedom and fresh perspectives. This trope of being ‘landless’ is manipulated by Dickens to suggest that his characters are somehow different from the community into which they come. Furthermore, the fact that they are ‘landless’, allows Dickens to link them to possible criminality in the case of Neville, and perhaps more interestingly to sexual ambivalence in the case of Helena.
‘ ‘I can answer for you,’ laughed Helena, searching the lovely little face with her dark fiery eyes, and tenderly caressing the small figure.’ You will be a friend to me, won’t you?’
….The lustrous gipsy-face droopoed over the clinging armsand bosom, and the wild black hair fell down protectingly over the childish form. There was a slumbering gleam of fire in the intense dark eyes, though they were then softened with compassion and admiration. Let whomsover it most concerned, look well to it!’
I say more interestingly because the device of using an outsider or ‘foreigner’ as a possibe criminal interloper was used earlier in Bleak House as well as Little Dorrit. This is a safe means of solving any issues of social instablity; however what is singular about Helena Landless’s characterisation in Drood is that her exoticism suggests a sexual power that is not diminished or negativised. Indeed Helena is set directly against the predatory desire of Jasper himself. One exotic creature challenges another, and the ‘dark’ female ( unusually) triumphs. Instead of Helena’s gypsy temperament and looks being vilified’ they are a source of solace and erotic protection.
Edwin Drood remained unfinished on Dickens’s death. This unfinished quality perhaps contributes to the undiluted ‘trangressive’ quality of the Helena/ Rosa relationship. For if you think of Dorrit, the relationship between Tattycoram and Miss Wade is subsumed back into the conventional order of heterosexuality by the end of the narative. Thus, as is typical of classic realism, the ‘enigmatic’ or ‘strange’ qualities of a narraitve become reintegrated and restabilised within a dominant and ideologically conventional narrative. What we see in Drood is the enigma remaining enigmatic! Helena protects and courts Rosa, her sexual charisma is not hijacked away from her. The unfinished narrative threads engender an opennness and eroticism that is striliking. Marriage does not have the opportunity to intervene and to close down what is singular and fascinating about such Landlessness!
And it is also of signficance that Dickens’s perhaps unconsciously attributes sexual ambiguity to the experience of being ‘unanchored’ or ‘landless’. Exile or new horizons offer the gift of sexual expression that doesn’t have to be ‘forgotten ‘ in the plot driven search for either heterosexual closure, or converted into a ‘disease’ as it is with Ms Wade.
Think of Little Dorrit with the use of the voyage where Tattycoram meets Ms Wade. Think of the trope of water and sexual disorder in Our Mutual Friend. When we are literally away from ourselves we may behave in ways that express far more of the truth of who we are, then when we are ‘safely’ unanchored, and ‘tethered’ at home?
Little wonder then that Rosa blushes when she encounters her own ‘landlessness’ in Helena!
How to write a good essay!
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