Desire and Anxiety in the Victorian Ghost Story
Part 4: Homoerotic Desire in The New Pass, Amelia Edwards
The emergence of ghost stories during the Victorian era mirrors the emergence of fast-paced social developments in transportation, communication and sexual liberation, and could consequently be read as a means to channel social anxieties. Themes of masculinity, anxiety and change are repetitively acknowledged within the genre.
Amelia Edwards, Freud, Psychoanalysis, The New Pass
Homoerotic Desire and the stirrings of the primitive Adam
Amelia Edwards’ ‘The New Pass’ is rife with desire and anxiety. Like the characters of ‘The Empty House,’ her protagonists are anxious to breach the natural order – their relationship suggests more than friendship. ‘It was not our first joint long-variation tour by a good many,’ the narrator claims, ‘but it promised to be our last.’ From this point onward, the story is rife with homoerotic and phallic imagery, from the ‘bulbous steeple,’ to the ‘rough upright monolith’ and ‘shafts’ of sunlight. Nature, too, reflects the latent sexual desires of the men – the gushing waterfall, the tunnels through the mountains and the new pass itself. The new pass is not natural but manmade; it subverts nature and the natural order, and eventually proves catastrophic.
In light of the homoerotic imagery in the text, it is conceivable that Egerton is referring to more than the idyllic lifestyle when he questions his friend’s primitive stirrings: ‘there must surely be moments,’ said Egerton Wolfe after a while, ‘when even such men as you, Frank – men of the world, and lovers of it – feel within them some stirrings of the primitive Adam.’
The passage reveals the base male instincts of the narrator and his companion. Egerton’s deceased brother’s longing to see the Alps, (phallic symbols in themselves), is akin to the desire the men feel towards each other. Lawrence’s ghost warns the men to ‘Go back’ – to leave their thoughts unexplored, return to the natural order, to tradition, and to the socially accepted Victorian decorum. The unnatural, man-made new pass reflects their carnal desires and the dangers ahead.
According to Ellen Moers, the gothic is a genre belonging primarily to women. Amelia Edwards was certainly a key figure within the culture of Victorian ghost writing. Anxieties surrounding gender and sexuality were pertinent topics of discussion for women in the era. Nesbit explores the transgression of femininity in her story ‘Man-size in Marble,’ while Edwards examines the dynamic between the tradition and subversion of male sexuality. Both texts can be read alongside Edith Wharton’s American story ‘Afterward;’ unlike Laura, on the brink of becoming a modern woman and subverting tradition, Mary is ‘domesticated with the Horror, accepting its perpetual presence as one of the fixed conditions of life.’ Globally, the female form within the ghost story desires, suffers and dwells in domesticity, ever yearning for change.
Pick up your copy of The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories to read the full collection of stories discussed in this blog.