Magic always leaves trace. Magic of immortal things from before time doubly so. Gerda cannot forget and Kai can’t help but remember.
Together, they make it work.
Story set after Snow Queen, detailing Gerda and Kai adjusting to their world. This is first chapter, harsh (nonetheless) spring.
Magic always leaves trace. Magic of immortal things from before time doubly so. Gerda cannot forget and Kai can’t help but remember.
Together, they make it work.
They never tell you what happens after. After the tale. After the villain is defeated and you are back home. After the friend is saved.
Sometimes, Gerda wonders if that is her mistake. Should she have walked in while Snow Queen sat on her throne, engaged her in duel, killed her? Her stomach turns at thought of killing a living being, of taking another’s life.
But Snow Queen isn’t human. Gerda isn’t even sure she can be counted as alive. And what use is there for world of somebody that steals children and buries people under ice and snow?
‘’ No,’’ says Kai. ‘’ You did everything great. Without you, I’d never be free. And you wouldn’t kill her. You shouldn’t stain your hands with blood.’’
He doesn’t lie, as Snow Queen didn’t ( couldn’t), but like her leaves piece of truth hidden. He doesn’t say that otherwise Gerda would have fallen, one more victim of frostbite. He doesn’t say that you can’t kill blizzard, can’t harm winter, can’t make cold of vast space bleed. You can only prepare shelters, wrap yourself in fur and wool, and wait for it to pass.
He doesn’t say that army of angels was needed to fight against horde of snowflakes, that even Michael, he who leads God’s armies, would have failed against Queen there, in heart of her power.
He doesn’t say that Queen deserves no punishment, that she did nothing wrong. Winter gale doesn’t choose which way it blows, doesn’t seek to end lives. How can something without conscience, without morality, be called evil?
At first, everything is same as before. They are at home, living with grandmothers, playing on roofs and planting roses. They forget for a while.
It is small things at first. Seeing herself in windows and mirrors, all tall and grown up. Meeting old friends and not recognizing them. Reminders of years missed that slip from grandmother’s mouth. Finding job.
Whispers of roses. Chatter of birds. Kai’s hair, long and white as freshly fallen snow. His dark skin, once warm and rich as fertile earth, now pale as frozen ground of taiga.
Gerda closes her eyes and pretends not to hear.
‘’ It is so hot.’’ Gerda’s granny says.
‘’ I don’t remember summer this dry and warm.’’ Answers Kai’s.
‘’ I don’t think I could stand a day more of this heat.’’ Lies Kai. It is easier to pretend then admit that neither heat or cold bother him anymore ( Gerda restored his memory and took him home, but Queen kissed him, and he isn’t sure if she made him immune or fire and ice don’t dare harm him, but since that day he could go nude in blizzard and wrap himself in furs and walk through desert and not feel anything).
‘’ Rain will soon fall.’’ It comes out of her mouth without thinking. They turn, blink, and grandmothers ask ( how do you know, why are you sure, did somebody tell you).
Words stop in her mouth. How does she explain, sparrows gossiping about faraway storm, soon to come. How does she explain about roses knowing, feeling it’s arrival, starving for water that shall descend from sky.
‘’ I just know.’’ It is enough for now.
She sets up flower shop. Of course she does. What else could she have done?
Many things. She could have opened a bakery, or served in an inn as a barmaid, or became a teacher. She could have become a nurse tending to the sick, or started selling clothes she made, or cared for children of not so rich families. And she is the princess’s friend. She could have had anything. She really shouldn’t treat it as such mundane thing, even if it maybe is. Because even princesses have friends but who would have thought that she, Gerda, would be one to befriend the princess. She has spent years on journey, planning, hoping, fighting to survive. Childhood friends are nothing but blur in her mind. Princess is one of few people in world she can call friend anymore.
Princess in name only, she should add, for her friend has reigned over their land since she was fifteen, first aided by regent and advisors then alone, guided by her own wisdom. Year still needs to pass for her to ascend to mantle of monarch formally, which is stupid tradition in Gerda’s opinion, but the Princess is content with waiting- rules are to be followed, and Gerda doesn’t begrudge her that, as long as none suffer under them.
But thing is, she could have had any job she wanted. Anything that didn’t involve flowers and plants and hearing voices nobody else does, understanding their songs and stories. She didn’t have to do that.
But she likes gardening. She has always loved it, since she can remember planting and tending seeds, nurturing and guiding young green things to their first bloom, caring for them through year until cruel frost steals their life, as winter always does.
And she will be damned if she lets magic or bad memories take that away from her
She is successful. Beyond that even. She nourishes her plants, like mother caring for children, and they drive. Years of experience and hard work and knowledge she gained make sure none can match her.
Her flowers don’t speak, which surprises and relaxes her (but doesn’t disappoint, of course not). Flowers of old woman who enchanted her could speak like men, though they knew only to tell one story and to argue. Her roses, red and white, could muster words, not sentences but still expressions that she could understand.
Flowers she grows just murmur, too low for her to understand, and sing their wordless tunes. Still, she feels, and can imagine what story they would tell, if nourished by old woman’s magic.
Lily who drowns with despair, rolling off it like dew would be about girl who lost too much and walked into lake on her own.
Wildflowers that chime like jingle bells would be about three girls running under summer sun in green meadow.
Carnation with anger and pride as bright as fire would be about woman who knows what she desires, and dance laughing at those who try to stop her, for sooner will world burn than she will bow.
That is what attracts her customers, she muses. Somehow, she coaxes out those stories from flowers into hearts, and people know that her boquets mean more than any else. They come to her with wishes, flowers for first dates, flowers for marriage, flowers for separation, for funeral, for spite, for apology. She cares not for so called flower language or even colors clashing in some cases-she gives grieving mother sunflowers that scream with rage and loss, violets that soothe and give strength to move on, pink roses that fondly sing of loved ones long gone by.
Her competition laughs at first, but then they smell her work, or walk in rooms containing her pots, and their hearts are overcome with emotion, and they know she is right.
Gerda laughs. Perhaps it isn’t so bad. People are happy and she brings many coin home.
Grandma is waiting for her home, with magnificent red dress. It is woolen, and bright, and beautifully embroidered. Grandma cannot stop talking about it.
‘‘-and then I said, of course I can’t take it Martha, it is too good for us, I cannot believe ho well you sew, and that color is so vibrant, but she said nonsense after all times she spent in my house she is like my own daughter, and she needs some reward for all her hard work, and she and Kai were always such good friends with Brigitta, she was one who embroidered those stars, said she can’t wait to reconnect, and I said oh really, thank you so much Martha, these new shops are run by idiots who refuse to make more than five dresses for girls that aren’t thin like sprigs, but don’t think you won’t be getting three new shawls and-’‘ Grandma stops, looking at Gerda’s lost, stricken face.
‘‘Gerda, sweetie, what happened? Are you sick? Was there problem at work? Do you-’‘
‘‘Grandma,’‘ Gerda says, voice shaking ‘’ those people-Martha, Brigitte, I…I don’t remember who they are.’‘
‘‘Oh.’‘ Grandma says, patting Gerda’s hair as woman collapses in her arms, sobbing.
She always goes to church now. She did before too, but she now refuses to miss a single gathering. When she comes down with flu, grandmothers have to restrain her from getting up.
They don’t understand. She saw God answer her prayer, saw her breath form in army of angels, bright guardians with wings of flame and bodies of jewels and too many eyes of thunder, saw them fight demonic forces that kept her from Kai.
God has shown her mercy. Answered her prayer out of so many. Absolute loyalty is least she owes Him. He created her, Kai, her world and everything she holds dear. He sent His son to die for their sins, and He gave Heaven to virtuous.
And she needs to pay her sins. She hears voices of beasts, can command them, birds and bugs and cats and dogs, and she knows that is magic, and she saw witches and demons, was bewitched herself and escaped, saved her enthralled friend with His aid.
Magic is work of devil, and devil tempts and tricks, clothed in bright golden light, and his gifts lie and beguil, masked as blessing, and like gambling and wine magic is addictive and ruins people and…
She doesn’t want to be witch. She doesn’t want to be evil. She doesn’t want to harm people. To go to Hell. To become wicked and cruel like Snow Queen. To betray Him.
She cries and prays.
‘‘I don’t think she was a demon. Or witch. Or anything like that.’‘ Kai admits once. It is beginning of autumn, but night cold and yet Kai isn’t.
(It is not quite the truth, but he doesn’t want Gerda to worry, not after everything she has done for him, not after what bastard he had been. Better to say, he is always cold, but it doesn’t grieve him. He’s got the winter in his bones, and he will live with that for rest of his days, and honestly, he likes it).
Gerda looks at him, shocked and alarmed and bundled in jackets, and she doesn’t know what to say because Kai never confided in her what his time at palace was like but now he says this and she fears he is tempted again and she wants them all to heal, and you must talk if you want to achieve that, but she wants to forget and leave everything behind.
But Kai can’t. He wants to heal too, but he doesn’t know where to start, and sometimes he thinks healing requires thinking and accepting and letting what happened become part of their lives forever, and sometimes he isn’t sure if he wants to forget, but he knows that he can’t, for he went with Snow Queen and she kissed him and he lived in her realm growing without need to eat or sleep or drink and now there is winter in his bones, cold in his blood and frost under his skin, and he knows piece of her rests within him and he knows that wherever he goes he will carry snow within himself and he can’t pretend so long.
‘‘Kai…’‘ Gerda begins ‘‘She…. did something happen, Did you… Did she return?’‘‘
‘‘I saw nothing of her this day, or yesterday, or any other day since you saved me.’‘ He says gently. He doesn’t say that he didn’t need to see her-wherever there is cold she has reach, even at height of summer, and her power flows through universe itself, and she rests within him, bound together by winter as mother and son are by blood, or bond even stronger than that.
‘‘I just… I was thinking about what you said. I think angels came because of you, not her. Your prayer and your heart, that is your strength, like Bae said. he gave it to you, because you got it.’‘ Kai smiles, slow and sweet, and Gerda doesn’t look at his teeth, white and shining like fresh snow on morning sun ‘‘ I don’t make sense do I? I think… He helped you because you helped yourself first.’
But that doesn’t really have much to do with her, you know? I don’t think she serves God, but I don’t think she is against him. She is out of it all, like wind or snow. I asked her once, you know, how can you tell between good and evil.’’
‘‘And what did she say?’‘ Gerda doesn’t know what to expect. Demon would likely give some answer that seemed innocent but advised human to be selfish.
‘‘She looked at me, puzzled-I think that was only time I saw her confused, maybe first time she was ever confused- and asked me what those words mean. I don’t remember what I said, but she didn’t understand.
And once she talked to me about angels and demons, said that they are God’s servants, extensions of his will. But demons wanted to control world, to enslave other creatures and take what was not theirs and rebelled against him. She said that like all people and beings that are his they have soul. And…’‘
‘‘I know that Kai. Did she tell anything more.’‘ She didn’t want to believe that, but demon wouldn’t have admitted they were evil. But neither were humans demons and there were many evil ones.
‘‘She told me once that she doesn’t have one. Soul that is. And she doesn’t lie Gerda Believe me, I know she can’t, just as I know to calculate or to breathe. She isn’t human, but she isn’t demon either.’‘
‘‘But what could she be otherwise?’‘ Kai looks through window into deep blackness between stars, there where cold is strongest. he thinks he can imagine cold, sharp yet soft hand stroking his back, fondling his hair, can imagine laugh and wail in hush of wind.
‘‘She is… she is old, and cold and alone, and that is all.’‘
They say that women who talk with animals are witches, that beasts are demons in disguise and their familiars, and perhaps Gerda should stop feeding every animal she encounters and unlike some cynics she isn’t quite so ready to believe that world is full of demons.
Kai’s words were strange, but she trusts him like brother, and chooses to believe. Because at end of day, faith is what she must have, and she is sure God would have given her sign otherwise.
Besides, most beasts are quite dumb, even pretty white doves she fattens, thinking only of food and mates. Not like Bae, or Mr. and Mrs. Raven.
And such thinking is insulting to them, she considers. If normal animals are demons because she can understand them, then what of ones that speak and think like humans? What of the princess, whose dreams dance? Or of two wise women who helped her, kind leaders of their villages? Would somebody name her friends, who helped her so much demons or witches for that?
Perhaps it is not magic at all, but simply gift to understand others-she understood different tongues as if they were her own, now that she thinks of it. Perhaps she just listens better than most people. And she doubts that demons would give her such gift, or that angels would fight for sake of a wicked creature (they were angels, she knows, true and through, she could feel their holiness, their goodness in depths of her soul, and it was greatest thing she ever felt, no demon could fake that).
So with a smile, she resumes feeding her white doves.
There are many distasteful men in world, Gerda is aware. Men with no manners nor respect, who, utterly entitled, treat women and children and seniors as things. She would have to be raised under the rock, or in that land of Greek women warriors Kai told her about, not to know about them. Single reason why she is surprised when older customer gropes her is that shop is full of people.
He is surprised when she slaps him, so she can forgive herself for that. He shouts, more from surprise than pain-she didn’t smack him as hard as she could or should, have had- for he is too much used for this. Too many girls are afraid, knowing that few will help them, and those men take silence for yes.
‘‘Dear God, what has gotten in you, lass?’‘
‘‘What has gotten in me? How dare you?’‘ Grandma always said that Gerda had more bravery than self-preservation, but Gerda reckons if she could go over half world as child then she can shout at this man when she is a woman .’‘ You, sir, have honor of being most rude and shameful customer I had displeasure of serving. How dare you act so toward young woman, nay any woman at all! I hope you haven’t been bothering any other girl here other wise..’‘
He is angry, and red, and raises his hand. Several customers ran to Gerda’s side, fastest being sixty-year-old widow with steely hair buying flowers for cheap funeral and fourteen-year-old boy taking single flower for each of his eight siblings; man’s hand falls down.
But window is thrown open, and golden October sunlight pours inside as half dozen white doves descend, pecking at his bald head. Man lets her go as he tries to fend them off. Gerda stares in awe, then rises cross around her neck and whispers her thanks.
‘‘Miss Gerda, are you alright?’‘ The boy asks, having run to her side. Widow watches with stern, steely gaze, her angry eyes like embers as she shouts to two strong men standing near her to take ‘‘gentleman’‘ outside, using names and words that would make sailors red as strawberries. Two men comply, their necks as flushed as Gerda at widow’s words.
‘‘I am well, thank you.’‘ She says to everybody inside.’‘ Promise me you will never be like that man when you grow up.’‘ She whispers to him, and he nods, face determined and hard. She doesn’t doubt it. His mother is honest woman of strong hand, if little easy to set off, and his father is nice man who is always kind to all even if they don’t have much. And boy himself is, as far as she knows from seeing him around neighbour, just as kind and honest.
‘‘ I will keep flowers, mister, but you can have your money back once you learn to behave properly.’‘ She says and takes three coins off counter, giving them to boy and widow as shop laughs.
‘‘Thank you.’‘ She whispers to doves. they stare at her with their red eyes before cooing back.
‘‘Feed us. Nice girl. All people love you. Man bad, man harm. Cannot allow that.’‘ Gerda laughs and thanks again. Amount of birdseed increases, and so does amount of feathery flyers keeping watch over her.
She doesn’t have such incidents ever regain.
In November, they attend her friend’s coronation. She gets invitation, personally signed by future Queen herself. She is allowed to bring guests. Nobody from house says anything, but news spread and soon Gerda is given as much as attention as mayor himself. Still nobody is surprised when she brings both grandmothers and Kai.
They are given great chambers, and coronation is magnificent, her wise friend ascending to her rightful throne, dressed in royal regalia. They dance (Gerda is astonished to see grandmas pick up fast, complicated dance with each other) and laugh and eat and everything is beautiful. And then Kai and the prince meet.
There is no fight, no problem at all. Not even teasing or bantering. But once they meet Gerda realizes how much things have changed.
She once confused him for Kai. It was easy to mistake them in dark for each other while prince was sleeping-but once his face was revealed she saw her mistake immediately. Head was right size, neck long enough and forehead just as wide, with thin eyebrow and upright jaw and pointy chin. But his eyes were bigger than Kai’s, his ears shorter and rounder, nose not as prominent and lips much plumper, teeth not as small and cheekbones not as sharp.
Still, they could have been cousins. Or even brothers. Both knew nothing of their parents, and were right age to maybe be fraternal twins- prince grew up in orphanage and Kai was found abandoned on street by his grandmother (in the snow, but this she never told anybody). Only problem was that they grew up in towns on opposite sides of the country. Still she joked about confusing them again once they met each other.
And they did, and Gerda could no longer deny how much Kai changed. Both were tall and strong and slim, but Kai seemed tall and robust and thin like a frozen mountain, or frost covered pine tree.
Their skin was dark as earth, but Kai’s was harsh and frigid like dead, frozen taiga where nothing could grow. Prince’s hair was just as long and fair as her friend’s once was, but now it was pale and white like pure snow and bleached bones.
Their teeth were healthy and clean, but Kai’s were blinding white and seemed pointy at times. Prince’s hands were warm, while Kai’s felt like sticking hand in mountain river. Prince’s eyes were sparkling, so were Kai’s, but whereas eyes of prince shone with joy and mischief, Kai’s reflected still light of aurora.
And only there, in room full of people, hundreds of them, instead of apartment filled with four, did she notice how off Kai felt. How hairs on her neck rose, as something deep in her bones remembered and said: odd, inhuman, wrong, eldritch, other, run, beware, don’t trust, hide, too powerful.
But she ignored it. Kai was her friend, and some stupid voice in her head didn’t know him better than she.
Only when they went to coronation, did he truly notice how small and weak and not right everything looks.
He sees the castle, gold and marble and brilliant, and thinks of a palace rising from ground unto sky, made of snow that will never melt and with doors of wind that will never stop. And he knows how fast and how easily this so called castle will crumble.
He walks halls, small finite halls in which people are pushing and hitting each other and having problem keeping distance and thinks of endless labyrinths that could contain whole world and still not lose one percent of space yet were always empty.
Decorations are wrought, and ugly, imperfect things not wrought by will. They cannot change shape or rise to defend castle and he knows that if he compared candles and statues he would find that they aren’t perfectly same. He sees candles and thinks of pale northern lights adorning walls and roof, part of castle, contained in floor and pillars and freely travelling through air.
He sees throne, ugly, red and gold thing, and thinks of pale mirror, frozen bottomless lake of reason containing world and answers to all questions and then some, watches tables and portraits and thinks of ice pieces that made such perfect puzzles.
And he sees Gerda’s friend the queen, and his very mind screams and recoils upon thinking of calling her so. He almost cries when he says ‘’glory to the queen’’, his bones breaking.
For in place of this mortal creature, being of flesh and blood and bone, being that can be killed and thorn apart and shattered and rebelled against by any he sees a goddess, gigantic and beyond measure and of power deep beyond comprehension, woman with body of glaciers and restless soulless eyes of stars and hair of northern light and clothes of snow and voice of sharp winter wind, being that stands against vulcanoes and turns magma to stone, who can take away life with touch and turn land harsh and barren, woman older than very time, who rules vast expanses of empty space and brought winter in existence and who will one day bury entire universe in cold and ice when time is right for her to do so (she doesn’t hate other elements and seasons, no matter what anybody says. World has time and place for all, and when it is time for fire and heat to devour all she will accept and burn and wait for flames to die out just as they will wait for her hold to shatter, and so on and on).
He doesn’t hate Gerda’s friend-could never hate her, nor her husband, she is so wise and smart and ambitious and cunning and caring and will make a great leader, but part of his very soul shivers and shrivels and dies whenever he thinks of her as a queen- none of them humans realize, he understands, what true monarch says.
‘‘Isn’t she true queen?’‘ Gerda asks, smile as bright as the Sun, and for her sake he will lie even as his tongue blackens and rots.
‘‘Yes, she is.’‘ He says and quickly coughs up blood that spills from his mouth.
Fate snatched them, and changed what they were in something else, but just because they are something else now doesn’t they will stop being friends.
"I think nothing, my lord": Emptiness, Absence, and Abused Innocence in "Ophelia, the Rose of Elsinore"
Mary Cowden Clarke's cautionary, didactic pre-history of Hamlet's Ophelia uses the character's submissive affect and limited agency to inflict an escalating series of emotional and psychological shocks on her heroine, which she suggests will eventually burst forth as madness. In doing so, Clarke becomes another (perhaps the worst) of Ophelia's abusers, constructing a narrative of foundational, sexualized psychic pain that surpasses the traumas visited on her by Shakespeare, ultimately silencing her "heroine" and reifying her secondary status in the prince of Denmark's tragedy. In the nineteenth century tradition of "bowdlerizing" literature for impressionable young readers, Clarke employs folk and fairy-tale conventions to create a social and cultural landscape in which masculine desire is an omnipresent threat, female desire too dangerous to contemplate, and a young maid's wits as mortal as her virtue. In her zeal to protect the purity of Victorian girlhood, Clarke adopts an abusive relationship to Ophelia that effectively conflates the roles of author and evil stepmother. By evacuating her subject of any internal resources save "innocence" and "obedience," Clarke creates a character who is merely acted upon, denying Ophelia even the agency granted her theatrical prototype, who performs the most powerful, proactive deed of her circumscribed life by ending it.
Ophelia from The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines
Mary Cowden Clarke begins her richly imaginative pre-history of Hamlet's Ophelia with a portrait of mute, shapeless inertia and vacuity: "The babe lay on the nursemaid's knee. Could any impression have been received through those wide-stretched eyes that stared as wonderingly as if they were in fact beholding amazed the new existence upon which they had so lately opened, the child would have seen that it lay in a spacious apartment, furnished with all the tokens of wealth and magnificence, which those ruder ages could command" (Clarke 1852, 161). This image of the infant, apparently awake and alert, yet according to this narrative, strangely vacant and incapable of comprehension, lays the foundation for the portrait of submissive, tractable innocence that Clarke constructs for her Shakespearean "heroine." The child's "wide-stretched eyes" and their "violet" color are mentioned three times in the story's opening paragraph, along with speculations about what they might have "noted," "seen," or "perceived," had they possessed the ability to do so (161).
This introduction to Clarke's "Ophelia, the Rose of Elsinore" — one in a series of morally instructive "prequels" for fifteen of Shakespeare's female characters published as The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines between 1850 and 1852 — presents Ophelia as a passive receptor for incoming stimuli, ready to be molded and manipulated by those around her. This rather flaccid representation prefigures the noncommittal responses of Shakespeare's character when questioned about her perceptions and opinions: "I know not what I should think, my lord" (to which Polonius replies, "Marry, I'll teach you; think yourself a baby"), and "I think nothing, my lord," which Hamlet deliberately misinterprets as an obscene reference to the "no thing" that "lie[s] between maids' legs" (Hamlet, 1.4.104-105; 3.2.106-107). But Clarke goes beyond the play's sketchy portrayal of a girl caught between the agendas of powerful men to create a young woman whose very "innocence" dooms her to passivity, silence, and victimization. Using Ophelia's submissive affect and lack of agency as her starting point, Clarke systematically inflicts an escalating series of emotional and psychological shocks on her heroine, traumas that she suggests will eventually burst forth as madness in Hamlet. In doing so, Clarke becomes another — perhaps the worst — of Ophelia's abusers, creating a narrative of foundational psychic pain that surpasses even the tortures envisioned for the character by Shakespeare himself.
Although the innate purity and virtue of Clarke's Ophelia "never will be moved, / Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven," the potentially unwholesome influences that appear throughout her narrative serve as warnings to Clarke's target demographic of young girls and their mothers, who were encouraged to read and discuss the stories together (Hamlet, 1.5.53-54). By introducing the figure of Botilda, Clarke inserts a folk/fairy-tale element into Ophelia's fictional "girlhood" that would have been familiar to youthful audiences and that she further exploits by temporarily displacing the infant Ophelia from the Danish court to her nursemaid's rural cottage, where she encounters other tropes of traditional storytelling: a frightening, quasi-monstrous savage, a beautiful peasant girl, and a handsome, mysterious nobleman on a "milk-white horse" (Clarke 1862, 178). The sense of impending danger that informs Ophelia's early life is a key component of the dark emotional landscape Clarke invents for her character, in which monsters seem to lurk around every corner. By presenting the child Ophelia in continual peril from her surroundings, Clarke lays the groundwork for the emotional fragility of Shakespeare's character, while reminding her readers that being a young woman is a dangerous business in any time.
Although Clarke explores relatively new territory by inventing elaborate back-stories for Shakespeare's characters, the repackaging of his plays for young and/or female audiences began earlier in the nineteenth century with the publications of Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare and Henrietta and Thomas Bowdler's The Family Shakespeare, both of which appeared in 1807. Shakespeare's ubiquity as a signifier of taste, culture, and education demanded that any person with pretensions to refinement be familiar with his works, yet certain elements in many of his plays rendered them problematic. Texts such as those by the Lambs and the Bowdlers aimed to negotiate between Shakespeare's acknowledged value to young people as a source of moral instruction and cultural capital and parental concerns about the hazardous effects of unmediated interpretation on the unsophisticated reader. In the same way that a responsible mother would select the most suitable wet-nurse, careful parents of the late Romantic period could provide their children with the benefit of Shakespeare's "wisdom" while sheltering them from topics and situations they were not yet equipped to interpret for themselves:
The connection between feminine and juvenile subjectivity that Hateley identifies in the Lambs' project is equally informative to a discussion of "Ophelia, the Rose of Elsinore" and its author, who has been hailed as a proto-feminist for her work as a scholar and editor of Shakespeare, as well as for her essays and fiction. Born in 1809, Clarke was the daughter of the musician Vincent Novello and so was raised in an atmosphere that valorized learning and the arts; family friends included Coleridge, Shelley, Leigh Hunt, and Keats. Mary and her siblings were educated at home, where she studied Latin with Mary Lamb (as noted above), who was a frequent visitor. In later years, Clarke remembered Lamb fondly, and Hateley posits that these early interactions had an important, lasting influence on the developing writer: "Cowden Clarke . . . grows up with a vision of women as instructors, including the Lamb tales and their female author, and in remembering Mary Lamb's voice [in her capacity as teacher] links the oral and the literary" (Hateley 2009, 37). This connection between the oral and the literary would prove particularly important for the Girlhoodproject, but Clarke also published in a number of other genres. She spent sixteen years compiling the first complete concordance to Shakespeare's plays, and among her scholarly publications were Shakespeare's Proverbs; or, The Wise Saws of our Wisest Poet Collected into a Modern Instance (1847-48);Shakespeare's Works (1859-60); The Plays of Shakespeare (1864); and The Shakespeare Key: Unlocking the Treasures of His Style (1879), on which she collaborated with her husband, Charles Cowden Clarke. For these achievements, Gail Marshall has declared Mary Cowden Clarke to be "the pre-eminent female Shakespeare scholar of the century." In her analysis of The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines, Marshall writes:
This is a thought-provoking and potentially troubling observation, since these stories were marketed to young women as a carefully mediated exposure to Shakespeare, from which young ladies were expected to glean important moral lessons that, when the time came, would (presumably) inform their reading of the original texts. But if, as Marshall argues, Clarke removes all agency and responsibility from her "heroines," placing it instead in the hands of indulgent or dictatorial parents, of what value are the lessons taught by her stories? Like the Lambs and Bowdlers before her, Clarke believed that Shakespeare's plays could serve a useful educational function if they were introduced carefully to girls, optimally by their mothers, who could pick and choose the most edifying material while editing out elements for which young women's tender sensibilities might not be ready. As Nina Auerbach describes this etiological enterprise, "Clarke 'explains' each heroine by providing her with a minutely realized and vivid childhood, forming her character and elaborating her motivations so carefully that her behavior in her play becomes a mere coda to the drama of her girlhood" (1994, 31). That being the case, Clarke's adolescent female audience may well have been ignorant of how the plays would end, which allowed her a great deal of scope when foregrounding — and thus preemptively interpreting — these Shakespearean "codas" for Victorian mothers and daughters. By appropriating Shakespeare's characters and inventing paratextual explanations for their subsequent fates in the plays, Clarke effectively strips her "heroines" of agency not only in the narrative that she constructs for them, but in Shakespeare's as well. Although a bold, even hubristic, undertaking for an author of any sex, Clarke's approach to her heroines problematizes claims of a feminist agenda for the Girlhood. While the stories' composition may constitute a feminist act for Clarke as a writer, her narratives offer nothing to suggest that such personal autonomy is an available — or indeed, safe — option for her characters or her readers. Clarke is interested in educating young women, but not necessarily in empowering them with anything beyond an awareness of the constant peril attendant on being female.
Thus, Clarke's insistence on the indispensable role of the mother in the formation of her offspring's mind and character is central to her explanation of why "a young maid's wits / Should be as mortal as an old man's life" in Hamlet (4.5.158-59). After depriving Ophelia of maternal counsel at a vulnerable point in her emotional development, Clarke forces her to endure ordeals never imagined for her Shakespearean prototype, including a lengthy separation from her parents, the seduction, disgrace, and death of two friends at the hands of the same "libertine," an attempted rape, a near-fatal attack of "brain fever," and the sudden demise of the loving mother Shakespeare neglected to provide for her. Like Shakespeare's character before her madness, "The Rose of Elsinore'''s Ophelia exhibits little motivating force of her own, but is continually defined and moved around according to the needs and purposes of others. With the exception of Clarke herself, these manipulators are usually men, and in her essay on the role of feminist criticism in the fluctuating nature of Ophelia's representation, Elaine Showalter writes:
Armed with only these "ambiguous flashbacks" and faced with the challenge of constructing an identity for Ophelia before she appears as Laertes' sister and Polonius' daughter, Clarke must invent a Denmark that predates the action of Hamlet. In doing so, she creates a social and cultural landscape that evokes the genres of folk tradition and fairy-tales as much as that of early modern drama. Designed to capture the attention of the young reader, this is a world where the daughter of a high-ranking courtier finds herself in a woodcutter's cottage, where handsome princes mysteriously appear on horseback to seduce innocent peasant girls, and where delicate, aristocratic, young ladies die of broken hearts. To the series of male-engendered betrayals that inform the theatrical Ophelia's life, Clarke introduces the theme of feminine weakness: the men may be self-serving and rapacious, but the women in her narrative betray themselves by neglecting to exercise the necessary caution to preserve their virtue. In Clarke's didactic, cautionary representation of female frailty, Ophelia's reason is undermined as much by the failings of the women in her life as by those of the men.
Ophelia takes up comparatively little room in the predominantly male world of Shakespeare's text, so in order to set the stage for her tale of imperiled female innocence, Clarke fabricates a highly feminized environment for the girl to grow up in: Ophelia has not only a devoted mother and a nursemaid, but female attendants and two (ill-starred) girlfriends. The men of the play are mostly conspicuous by their absence: Laertes is barely mentioned after leaving for school in Paris, the guardsmen Bernardo and Marcellus get a single line, Osric is a foil for Clarke's invented seducer, Lord Eric of Kronstein, the King, Claudius, and Prince Hamlet hardly appear (the latter never speaks), and Horatio is nowhere in sight. Polonius is an autocratic, somewhat risible windbag whose mere "wave of the hand" is understood by his wife and daughter to be "of final significancy," but his role in Clarke's text is primarily to complicate things for his wife and daughter (Clarke 1852, 201). Ophelia's first traumatic experience occurs as a result of her father's professional ambitions: when Polonius embarks on a diplomatic mission to France, he demands that his wife accompany him and leave their children behind. This is the first of several relocations for Ophelia, who is placed in the home of her wet-nurse, Botilda, for the duration of her parents' absence. This early separation is central to the narrative's agenda: Lady Aoudra is unconcerned with the possible effects of Botilda's family on her daughter, trusting "to the child's extreme youth — scarce beyond babyhood — for security that she should not acquire coarse habits, or imbibe unseemly notions" (165). She expects "to return before the time when it was necessary to begin the inculcation of principle, the inspiring of ideas, the formation of heart and mind," but this temporary abdication of her maternal duties — although reluctantly acceded to out of wifely obedience — sets in motion the chain of events Clarke posits as the source of Ophelia's eventual madness and suicide (165).
The "ravage" of things (and people) "of beauty and fragility" becomes an all-too-familiar motif in the girl's life, as Ophelia is exposed to situations that are progressively more troubling (although still incomprehensible to her "innocent" mind). As the uneducated Botilda neglects her duty to Jutha as mother, to Ophelia as mother surrogate, and to Ulf as moral guide and disciplinarian, the world around Ophelia grows more unstable and confusing, until even Jutha effectively abandons her. This second trauma begins when the girls stumble upon Lord Eric of Kronstein (Clarke's emblematic figure of the seductive, irresponsible libertine) on one of their regular walks in the forest. In this scene, which is worth quoting at length, Clarke skillfully combines tropes of juvenile literature with a glimpse into the imaginative lives of the two young girls whom she places in danger:
One fine noonday, when the heat of the sun had compelled Jutha and the little girl to seek the shade of the forest depths, Ophelia interrupted the story then telling, by exclaiming suddenly: — "Look Jutha! See there!" Jutha looked . . . and saw, to her surprise, a milk-white horse, saddled and bridled . . . "The beautiful creature!" exclaimed Jutha. "What costly housings it has! It looks like a fairy horse, — the steed of some of those gallant princes in the stories! . . . The maiden and the child crept a little nearer to the figure they saw lying there. It was that of a young man, in a rich hunting-dress. His plumed hat had been placed so as to shade his eyes during sleep; but it had fallen partly aside, and showed a face finely shaped, with features marked and handsome. "A fit owner for such a gallant beast!" murmured Jutha . . . "Sure, a prince — no less; such a prince as they tell of in the wondrous tales I have heard. How passing beautiful he is! What can he be? Where can he have come from? From fairy-land — or from the court, surely." (Clarke 1852, 77-78)
Each of these affairs brings catastrophic consequences, the last being the murders of King Hamlet and Polonius, the madness and suicide of Ophelia, and the corpse-littered image of the Danish court that ends Shakespeare's play. But although Clarke offers disturbing glimpses into the inner world she constructs for her heroine, she seems more interested in using the traumas that shape Ophelia's personality to explain and excuse her later behavior than in analyzing how those traumas have informed that behavior. Whereas a straightforward Freudian reading would see repressed sexuality as a structuring function of the text, leading to unconsciously driven actions (such as Ophelia's surveillance of Ulf and her persistent inability to recognize sin, vice, or danger), Clarke's agenda, while not wholly unrelated, seems somewhat different. In "The Rose of Elsinore," it is unrepressed sexuality that results in such driven actions, most explicitly figured in the character of Lord Eric, who seems incapable of not seducing every young woman he meets. Moreover, the implication is that all men — from the bestial Ulf to the bullying Polonius, the adulterous Claudius, and even Prince Hamlet — are in thrall to such drives unless they actively resist them. In Clarke's narrative, women who are properly instructed should be immune to these urges, but they remain in constant peril from the seductive power that enables men to act on their most profane desires. In this way, Clarke's project challenges a classic psychoanalytic reading because although she wants her female readers to recognize the dangers of male sexuality, they are not encouraged to acknowledge or interrogate their own. Male desire is an omnipresent threat to be guarded against, but female desire presents a danger too enormous to contemplate unless its consequences are made terrifyingly clear.
Clarke's persistent emphasis on the inherently threatening nature of male and female sexuality problematizes Showalter's claim that "The Rose of Elsinore" is a "Victorian feminist [revision] of the Ophelia story" invested in addressing "the wrongs of women, and especially . . . the sexual double standard" (1985, 87). In my reading, Clarke's Victorian solution to this double standard is the denunciation of male desire and the complete denial of any analogous desire in educated (and therefore "virtuous") women. In her lecture to Ophelia on the ever-present danger of "libertines," Lady Aoudra laments society's unforgiving attitude towards female transgression: "The world is charitable in the allowances it makes for the worker of all this evil, though severely tyrannous to the injured party . . . I, for my part, must ever hold deliberate seduction as one of the most heinous crimes, and continue to manifest my abhorrence of the seducer in proportion with my estimate of his guilt" (Clarke 1852, 221). But despite her apparent interest in equal justice for equal wrongdoing, Clarke's overwhelming message remains that men are a danger from which young women must safeguard themselves. None of the women in Clarke's text is necessarily immoral, merely insufficiently vigilant in defending their own virtue and, by association, the innocence of those for whom they are responsible, but their creator still makes them suffer for their weakness. In "The Rose of Elsinore"'s moral universe, sexuality is not only equated with ruin, despoilment, and loss, but ultimately synonymous with death.
Ophelia recovers and remains externally unblemished by witnessing this grim result of less-than-perfect virtue: if anything, the spectacle of Jutha's corpse and stillborn infant ensures her continued obedience and passivity. As Auerbach points out, "Clarke's account of the successive traumas that form Ophelia locks the heroine into so harrowing a series of events that there is no room in her character for disruptive ambiguities," and Clarke quickly provides her heroine, and her audience, with a second example of the wages of sin in Lady Thyra, the motherless noblewoman whom Ophelia befriends at Polonius' insistence (1994, 31). Thyra is kind-hearted, but secretly betrothed to the same young man who despoiled the unfortunate Jutha — a match to which she knows her father would never consent. Despite Lady Aoudra's reservations about Ophelia's intimacy with a girl so "unrestricted in her proceedings, choosing her own associates, complete mistress of her conduct and herself," Thyra does not corrupt her "dear, scrupulous novice," but must suffer nonetheless for her involvement with the reckless, amoral Eric (Clarke 1852, 201, 204). It is unclear whether this second seduction proceeds as far as Jutha's, but the outcome for Ophelia is more serious than the hysteria of her earlier bereavement. The discovery of her friend's corpse, "hanging where her own desperate hand had stifled out life," brings on an illness during which she has delirious hallucinations of her dead friends, along with prophetic visions of King Hamlet's murder and her own suicide by drowning:
The night was obscure; there was a veil of haze upon tree, and shrub, and brook; but I saw her plainly, and knew her at once, before she shook back her long hair, and wrung her hands, and moaned; it was Jutha, mother! . . . there were two others, I saw. One was my poor Thyra. I knew her by a terrible token . . . her livid throat . . . and there was a space between her feet and the ground, as she glided past me . . .
The wind sighed amid the reeds. The heads of nettles and long-purples were stirred by the night breeze, as it swept on mournfully. The air seemed laden with heavy sobbings. Then I saw one approach, whose face I could not see, and whose figure I knew not. She was clothed in white, all hung about with weeds and wildflowers; and from among them stuck ends of straw, that the shadowy hands seemed to pluck and spurn at; and then the white figure moved on, impelled towards the water. I saw her glide on, floating upon its surface; I saw her dimly, among the silver-leaved branches of the drooping willow, as they waved around and above her, upbuoyed by her spreading white garments. (222-24)
The last part of the above passage contains obvious echoes of Shakespeare's text, in which Gertrude reports Ophelia's drowning in strikingly similar language. The most fascinating thing about Clarke's decision to give Ophelia this vision and to have her articulate it is the implicit link it creates between Clarke's innocent, traumatized heroine and the morally compromised queen of "The Rose of Elsinore" and Hamlet. Whereas Shakespeare's audience has only Gertrude's (not necessarily trustworthy) word about Ophelia's final moments, Clarke deliberately confers authority on this version of events by including it in her didactic "preview" of Shakespeare's play. This may be no more than another example of Clarke's appropriative zeal, but it can be easily read as a warning to young readers that all women — whether innocent or fallen — are alike in their susceptibility to the threat of sexuality, and to its attendant consequences. Sarah Annes Brown has noted how, in the same vision, Clarke may obliquely tar the (largely absent, and wholly silent) Prince Hamlet with the same brush as Lord Eric, and the other corruptors of feminine virtue against whom Lady Aoudra warns her daughter: "The last woman is clearly her later self, and by associating her with Jutha and Thyra, Cowden Clarke seems to imply that Ophelia was a victim of men, that she was in fact later seduced by Hamlet, even though, when he appears on the margins of Cowden Clarke's text, it is as an apparently attractive and kind young man" (Brown 2005, 105). Brown also raises the intriguing possibility that Clarke, as a Shakespearean scholar, may have drawn on some of Hamlet's source materials when crafting her narrative and points out that in Saxo Grammaticus' Amleth (ca. 1200 CE,) the Prince "feigns idiocy, rather than madness, and his own foster-sister is offered to him (Ophelia-like) as a sexual temptation" (Brown 2005, 105). The notion that Clarke may have inserted the brutish Ulf as a gesture towards the roots of Hamlet as well as those of Ophelia's madness is an arresting one, but seems counterintuitive given Clarke's manifest investment in privileging the stories of Shakespeare's female characters over those of their more well-represented male counterparts. However, this thinly-veiled suggestion that all men are potential villains — from the highest to the low(li)est — accords nicely with the anxiety about masculine desire and feminine vulnerability that grounds the text, and especially with Aoudra's deathbed warning about her daughter's nascent affection for Hamlet: "But let [a woman] be sure — entirely sure — of his love for her, ere she permit her fancy to engage itself too fondly with his image,"and with Clarke's follow-up: "Thus it came that — from her mother's warning . . . Ophelia had the perils which awaited her in her future life at court, peculiarly impressed upon her mind" (Clarke 1852, 226, 227).
The modern reader is well aware what the outcome of these "perils" will be, but it is important to remember that the story's original readers may not have been. Looking ahead to when her impressionable audience does engage with Shakespeare's text, Clarke has used her narrative to systematically build an explanatory context for Ophelia's mental collapse in the aftermath of her rejection by Hamlet and his subsequent murder of Polonius. She is particularly anxious to clear her heroine from any proper understanding of the things she says (and sings): "Mrs. Clarke seems to have understood very clearly the sexual innuendoes of the mad scene, and to have taken the hint from them to create her own vivid and detailed incidents to teach her young readers and their mothers about the pitfalls in the path to virtue" (Gross 1972, 54). To that end, she not only traumatizes Ophelia via the deaths of her friends and her mother, but also leaves a trail of clues stretching back to infancy as an index to the girl's ravings. Thus, we know that the blameless child learned her bawdy songs at her nursemaid's knee and that her reference to the owl comes from Jutha's attempt to distract the child from questions about Lord Eric by relating the apocryphal tale of the hungry Christ's transformation of an uncharitable baker's daughter, who refused to give him bread, into an owl. Ophelia's familiarity with the properties and "grosser" names of wild flowers stems from the walks on which they meet Jutha's seducer, who refers to his victim as "a rose" and to her young charge as "an unopened bud" who "promises to be just such another flower of beauty . . . when she shall have reached [the] age of bloom" (Clarke 1852, 184, 180).
Throughout "The Rose of Elsinore," Clarke identifies Ophelia with the (proverbially shrinking and faithful) violet rather than "the blowing rose" of sexual maturity (Clarke 1852, 184). She makes a point of reminding us that the girl's "wide-stretched" eyes are of that color, which evokes not only Ophelia's own lament, "I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died," but also Laertes' admonition to view Hamlet's affection as "a violet in the youth of primy nature / Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting" and his later prayer that "from [Ophelia's] fair and unpolluted flesh / May violets spring!" (Hamlet, 4.5.180; 1.3.7-8; 5.1.223-24). The play's floral imagery also informs the identification Clarke's Ophelia feels with the flowers that Ulf takes "delight in ripping up and destroying" (Clarke 1852, 175). This "sweet rose of May" desperately fears becoming "just such another" as Jutha and Thyra, and her hallucination of a figure "clothed in white, all hung about with weeds and wild flowers . . . up-buoyed by her spreading white garments" may be equal parts prophecy and suggestion (224). As Auerbach writes,"Ophelia's destiny and her madness are determined before the play begins. In case we doubt the power of one trauma to form her conclusively, the same trauma recurs with only slight variations . . . Under these circumstances, anyone would become Ophelia" (1994, 32). Perhaps Ophelia's delirium produces a genuinely fatal vision, or — in another example of Clarke's troubled, pre-Freud Freudianism — it may combine with her accumulated losses to plant the idea of suicide in her weakened mind. Either way, Clarke's character cannot be held responsible for her words or her actions; her breakdown is the result of the traumas she has suffered.
The fact that Ophelia's multiple, formative traumas are invented and visited upon her by Clarke complicates the text in interesting ways. Auerbach observes that the Victorian era was "an age that could not stop telling stories while insisting on controlling the stories it told," operating in accordance with "a narrative ideology avid to define, to place, to understand, to explain," and this certainly applies to Clarke's project in "The Rose of Elsinore" (Auerbach 1994, 32). In laying her speculative groundwork for the "document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted" that is Shakespeare's Ophelia, Clarke attempts to negotiate a slippery slope between the cultural imperative to expose young women to "timeless" literature, her desire to explain and excuse behaviors in its heroine that are wholly inexcusable according to the moral standards of her time, and what she clearly perceives as the need to deliver a stern, terrifying warning to her malleable readership (Hamlet, 4.5.175-76). Given such a complex and problematic agenda, it is unsurprising that the text and its author occasionally appear to be at cross-purposes. To return briefly to psychoanalysis, it sometimes seems that Clarke's Ophelia is consigned by Clarke herself to the fate of the Freudian subject: unconscious of her own drives and deliberately forgetting her traumas, Ophelia finds herself in the same situation time after time, in much the same way that Clarke seems driven to dwell compulsively on the dangers of sexuality without really addressing or examining them.
The embodiment of vacancy with which Clarke begins her narrative — the infant Ophelia, a cipher devoid of sense or motion — is gradually filled up with the effects of the traumas that surround her; by the end of her tale, "the affectionate nature of this gentle being" has been subjected to a frightening array of slings and arrows by Clarke (Clarke 1852, 230). The penultimate line of Clarke's text is Ophelia's first line from the play, in answer to Laertes' admonition that she should "let [him] hear from [her]: "Do you doubt that?" (Hamlet, 1.3.4-5). This is followed by, "What to this was sequent, / Thou know'st already" (5.2.55-56). On the one hand, Clarke's choice to end Ophelia's story with Hamlet's words — delivered when he describes forging a death warrant for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which he then switches for his own — seems odd. The line not only presumes that the reader does know what is "sequent" (which may or may not be the case), but by giving Hamlet the last word, Clarke evacuates her "heroine" of any small degree of agency she might have granted her. On the other hand, this is entirely in keeping with Clarke's abusive relationship with the heroine/daughter of her piece, in which she seems to conflate her role as author with that of evil stepmother. By taking away even Ophelia's voice, she delivers the coup de grace that re-instantiates and solidifies the character's secondary status in the prince of Denmark's tragedy. Shakespeare's Ophelia cracks under the pressure of her sorrows and violates the boundaries of behavior for maidens of the medieval period in which the play is set, the early modern one in which it was written, and the Victorian era for which her story was appropriated. Wandering through the Danish court "distracted, playing on a lute, and her hair down," singing suggestive songs and prattling like the starling to which Clarke's Botilda compares her infant charge, this Ophelia breaks the molds that have shaped her, overflows the small space she has been allotted by those who control her, and performs the most powerful, proactive deed of her life by ending it (Hamlet, 4.4.21-22). But that can only happen in Shakespeare's play; for Mary Cowden Clarke's Ophelia, the rest must be silence.