Wednesday, 13 April 2011



In the last Post I discussed how Darwin and Folklore influenced Hardy's World-view. I suggested that both Darwinism and Folklore saw Humans in the grip of Titanic Forces. In terms of Darwinism survival would be possible by ADAPTING to such pressures. For the Folklorist Destiny could be changed by INVOKING PARANORMAL FORCES.

With this in mind we take up the study of the two novels: 'The Withered Arm' and 'The Return of the Native' We begin with 'The Withered Arm.

The story opens in a dairy, part of a country having but little contact with the wider world.


In fact, in areas such as this there would be but one County Newspaper. People occasionally borrowed a copy from someone else. News, and of course gossip, was generally circulated by word of mouth  at the local Markets or Fairs.

In this dairy where SUPERSTITION easily dominates the minds of the workers, Rhoda Brook, is isolated from the rest: she is suspected of WITCHCRAFT. Rhoda is described as a thin, dark woman, living with her twelve year old son in 'a lonely spot ... not far from the border of Egdon Heath,' in a cottage made of 'mud walls'.


By contrast with Rhoda, Farmer Lodge's new wife, Gertrude is described in almost angelic, innocent terms: 'almost, indeed, a girl. Her face too was fresh in colour ... soft and evanescent, like the light under a heap of rose petals.' She has 'the shyness natural to a modest woman.' She is 'a lady complete ... her hair is lightish and her face as comely as live dolls.'

Unlike Rhoda's eyes, hers are 'of a bluish turn' and her sensual mouth 'is very nice and red; and when she smiles her teeth show snow white.'  This contrast, BIOLOGICALLY DETERMINED, arouses bitter animosity in Rhoda's soul.


So driven to jealousy, one night when Gertrude is asleep at home, Rhoda engages in a PARANORMAL RITUAL, to redress the balance, and to alter the fortunes of her rival.

Sitting over the 'turf ashes' Rhoda 'contemplated so intently the new wife' that she produces an exact mental picture of her. Rhoda then retires to bed, and as a result of this long contemplation 'Gertrude Lodge visited the supplanted woman in her dreams.' Hardy suggests that this was more than a dream because he states, 'since her assertion that she really saw, before falling asleep, was not to be believed.' As a result of the RITUAL Gertrude appeared in her 'pale silk dress ..' However, this apparition is no longer innocent, angelic, nor modest, but 'shockingly distorted, and wrinkled as by age.'

She sits upon Rhoda's chest as she lies in bed, almost suffocating her with pressure. 'Her blue eyes peered cruelly' into Rhoda's face, and 'then the figure thrust forward its left hand mockingly,' making the wedding ring 'glitter in Rhoda's eyes.' Rhoda's PARANORMAL RITUAL has called up an 'INCUBUS' which 'still regarding her withdrew to the foot of the bed, only, however, to come forward by degrees, resume her seat, and flash her left hand as before.'

A struggle ensues during which Rhoda 'seized the confronting SPECTRE by its obtrusive left arm, and whirled it backward to the floor.' So vivid is the whole thing that Rhoda exclaims, 'that was not a dream - she was here!' At which point the INCUBUS vanishes. The following day Rhoda 'still retained the feel of the arm.'

This passage is important for it incorporates what many people of the day believed, the idea of BODILY PROJECTION. It is similar to the Folklore idea that when horses were found reeking with sweat of a morning it was because they had been hag-ridden by witches all night. Furthermore, Gertrude's posture, combined with her physical description and the designation of her as an 'INCUBUS,' implies that Rhoda's PARANORMAL RITUAL has resulted in calling forth something which she has not anticipated: the presence of a WITCH.

This novel, therefore is profound on a number of levels. For a start it probes Gertrude's CHARACTER and shows, perhaps SUBCONSCIOUSLY, that she is egotistical, gloating, and vindictive. The colour of her eyes and her mocking gestures betray this. Yes, Gertrude is quite different from the reader's initial impression of her. It further implies that lurking within certain individuals are PARANORMAL POWERS, and aspects of the personality that one is unaware of. Such POWERS may be RELEASED by the right stimulus. The stimulus in this case is the PROJECTION of Rhoda's bitterness into the lower part of Gertrude's nature.


The novel seems to contain a strange paradox. At one level of interpretation Gertrude is a VICTIM of Rhoda's jealousy; at another level, she herself is the WITCH. Gertrude by unwittingly displacing Rhoda, and disinheriting Rhoda's son, arouses strong, hostile emotions. The whole thing occurs in a framework of one individual acting consciously or unconsciously upon another. Such results in setting in motion a whole chain of events with malign repercussions. In 1886 Hardy wrote in his memorandum that he firmly believed in such things.

So, once more, we need to keep in mind what I tried to show in my Posts on 'The Victorian Consciousness', that Hardy was NOT simply writing a Novel: he was DECLARING what he believed to be true, cast in the form of fiction.

I must comment on something else: both women seem to be employing the PARANORMAL in a struggle for dominance: Gertrude to maintain the status quo, Rhoda to alter it. We need to think about something else, also. The comment regarding the appearance of the wrinkles, 'as by age' on Gertrude's face. This imagery either intensifies the horror of the scene, giving Gertrude a hag-like appearance befitting a witch, or it is prophetic of Gertrude's future condition as her sufferings increase during the course of the story.

Rhoda's PARANORMAL RITUAL achieves the desired result, but it also has a number of psychological repercussions upon her. As the marks on Gertrude's arm become more prominent, and the limb begins to wither her BIOLOGICAL attractiveness to Farmer Lodge ceases. Their marriage disintegrates in direct proportion as Gertrude's arm grows worse. At first Rhoda's 'sense of having been guilty of an act of malignity increased, affect as she might to ridicule her SUPERSTITION.' We can imagine Rhoda, as she sees the horror of the situation regarding Gertrude, trying to convince herself, unsuccessfully, that she is responsible. She feels that this 'innocent young thing' whose limb bears 'the shape of her own four fingers,' should receive 'her blessing and not her curse.'

Gertrude for her part is unable to ascertain the cause. She tells Rhoda, 'One night when I was sound asleep, I was dreaming I was away in some strange place, a pain suddenly shot into my arm .. and was so keen as to awaken me. ' Strangely, Gertrude does not describe Rhoda's cottage as the scene of her out of the body journey;  nor does she mention any tussle with Rhoda. However, Gertrude 'named the night and the hour of Rhoda's spectral encounter.' These facts cause Rhoda to feel 'like a guilty thing.'

Apparently, any part that Rhoda plays in the drama is MOTIVATED SUBCONSCIOUSLY for she muses: 'O, can it be that I exercise a malignant power over people against my own will?' Perhaps this was the reason why Rhoda 'had been slily called a witch'.

Fighting for the survival of her marriage Gertrude also resorts to the PARANORMAL. She and Rhoda visit Conjurer Trendle.


Trendle is a Conjurer in the true sense of the word. He is not a person practicing tricks or sleight of hand, but a true MAGICIAN who works with PARANORMAL POWER.

This visit has a strange psychological effect on Rhoda. She experiences 'a horrid fascination at times in becoming instrumental in throwing such possible light on her own character as would reveal her to be something greater in the OCCULT WORLD than she had ever herself expected.'

Here then is the paradox. On the one hand Rhoda feels guilty about the whole episode and the disintegration of Gertrude's marriage as a result of the PARANORMAL drama. On the other hand she seems to derive an egotistical sense of her own importance.

Trendle as we shall see in the next Post begins a PARANORMAL RITUAL. But enough has been said for now. I shall pick up from here in a day or so.

Any Comments?

Picture Credits Wikimedia Commons

Quotations From The New Wessex Edition (London 1977) of 'The Withered Arm' in Wessex Tales

Saturday, 9 April 2011



In 'The Withered Arm' (1888) and 'The Return of the Native' (1878) we find a strange mixture of ideas. Some seem derived from the theory of Darwin, and others from primitive Folklore elements. Hardy uses the PARANORMAL to tie these twin strands together. What does this imply? mainly that Hardy had a complex view of the world, which meant that his views of Humankind were a mixture of Darwinism and the influence of Folklore.

Let me make this clearer. Simply put, each system of thought saw Man in the grip of titanic forces, which CONTROLLED HIS DESTINY. Both notions contain a FATALISTIC element. This notion resounds throughout all of Hardy's work.

Darwin argued that the fittest survive by adapting biologically, and perhaps culturally, to their environment; the adherents of Folklore and superstition held that INDIVIDUAL DESTINIES could be modified by enlisting supernatural powers through PARANORMAL RITUALS.

In the two novels it will be shown how Hardy's World View was articulated by both of the influences I have mentioned.


Let us look at one or two early influences that pin down what I have suggested. Keep close in mind the three points of early contact: Christianity; Darwinism; and Folklore.

Let us begin with Christianity. It is reported that in his early youth Hardy dressed himself in a tablecloth to resemble the local parson, and then climbing upon a chair read out the Morning Service. As a boy he attended the Dorchester 'British School', a non-conformist Institution set up by the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1858, when he was eighteen years old he had long religious discussions with Henry Bastow, A Baptist. He encouraged Hardy to attend Prayer Meetings. Around this time Hardy seriously considered taking up the Christian Ministry. So, we can see that some of these Christian influences went deep.

However, by the mid 1860s his ideas began to shift. Although Hardy still had some regard for the veracity of the Bible, he no longer accepted many of the teachings of the Church. Why was this? At this time Hardy met Horace Mosely Moule, Cambridge Fellow, writer for the Saturday Review, and son of the vicar of Fenington. This man, who later cut his own throat, was primarily responsible for introducing Hardy to the philosophies of the day. He seems instrumental in drawing attention to Darwin's ideas.


Therefore, due to Moule's influence Hardy began to broaden his reading. Two works in particular, amongst numerous others, had a corrosive effect on his view of Orthodox Religion. They were 'Essays and Reviews' and 'The Origin of the Species'. The first of these works, although hardly known today raised a storm in Church circles. It consisted of a series of articles which, written by 'progressive' Ministers of the Church, cast doubt on many accepted doctrines of Christianity. The authors were branded as heretics and labelled as enemies of Christ. The ideas of Darwin are so well known that it is uneccessary to discuss them here.

What was the result of Hardy's reading? Mainly this, that by the 1880s he had definite reservations regarding the relationship of Orthodox Religion to the Natural World. In 1890 he recorded in his notebook that he had been looking for God for five decades, and surely if he existed,Hardy thought, he should after all that time have found Him. So, Hardy came to believe that Natural Processes, rather than the direct creation by God accounted for the arrival of Man. But here is the paradox: in spite of these influences Hardy still retained some regard for the Music of the Church, and for what he believed were its Civilising Influences. Hardy reminds one of G.H.Lewes and his attitude to Spiritualism. Neither could ignore the practices, attack them though they might.

What then was Thomas Hardy's view of FOLKLORE and the other aspects of the PARANORMAL?

In the 'Pall Mall Magazine' in 1901 Hardy said that he would give ten years of his life to see a credible ghost. Furthermore, he insisted that he was a believer, but thus far, despite his willingness to see an apparition, .he had been disappointed. Even so, late in life he did claim to have had an encounter with an apparition outside Stinsford Church. Here, he asserted, a man in eighteenth century dress greeted him and walked into the Church. Hardy immediately followed and found no one.

Although, not convinced by many of the Spiritualist Practices of the day, he seemed to think some phenomena were capable of a scientific explanation, whereas others might be genuine Paranormal phenomena. He believed that he had experienced some sort of TELEPATHIC COMMUNICATION  whilst riding on a train to London. At this time he had begun to jot down a few lines of his poem, 'Thoughts of Phena'. The theme of this poem is the sadness experienced by the death of a woman. Out of the Blue, the thought of Hardy's cousin flashed into his mind. He was completely unaware that she was dying. Six days after his experience she passed away.

There are many other PARANORMAL interests that Hardy had, such as Wraiths But enough has been said on this.

Hardy's sensitive temperament as well as his boyhood influences certainly inclined him towards the PARANORMAL. The environment in which Hardy lived had hardly altered from Medieval and Elizabethan Times.


In these villages the inhabitants were barely educated, were deeply superstitious, and they had a strong belief in witchcraft. Execution of criminals still took place, and, around the fire at night the same stories of unusual happenings were retold for centuries. It seems that people like  Rhoda Brook and Susan Nonsuch (characters in 'The Withered Arm' and 'The Return of the Native') lived in Dorset in the early part of the nineteenth century. Also, Thomas Hardy's Mother and Grandmother were often plying young Hardy with tales of the supernatural. In fact the author's own cousin, Elizabeth Endorfield, had also fallen under the suspicion of being a witch or sorceress.


So, here we have it: plently of material for Hardy to work into his novels. Please keep one thing in mind, as I stated in relation to the other novelists: Hardy was not merely writing two stories; he was DECLARING his own viewpoint and position.

It is far too involved to take up the interpretations of those scholars who see that Hardy, whilst adhering to a Darwinian viewpoint, simply recorded the PARANORMAL and FOLKLORE elements to keep them alive.I take the view that Hardy was using the DOUBLE VOCABULARY of Ancient Folklore and Modern Science to bring out his own view of Man's relationship to Cosmic Forces. Both systems of thought see human destiny affected by forces outside Man's control: whether ADAPTING in the face of such pressures in order to survive, or ENLISTING THE AID OF SUPERNATURAL POWERS, HUMAN DESTINY COULD BE CHANGED.

So, we shall see how in 'The Withered Arm' and 'The Return of the Native' Hardy uses an amalgam of the Paranormal and Modern Science when discussing Human Fate and its possible modification. It must be appreciated that although modern readers might think that the practices and beliefs of some of his characters are bizarre, Hardy did not.
Having had 'The Withered Arm' rejected by Longman's Magazine, Hardy despatched it to Blackwoods.  He informed the publishers that the main events in the novel were true because he knew the two women he had characterised. In fact, in conversation in 1894 with Edward Clodd , the Folklorist, Hardy assured him that whatever superstitions or customs appeared in his novels they were not fictionalisations, but genuine accounts.

After that preamble, let us dig into 'The Withered Arm' (1888).

This is a story about two women, Rhoda Brook, and Gertrude Lodge. Gertrude, without realising it, has supplanted Rhoda in the affections and estate of Farmer Lodge. Farmer Lodge is the father of Rhoda's son.

If one was reading the story from a DARWINIAN PERSPECTIVE it would be interpreted as a FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL on the part of the two women with the more sexually attractive of the two, Gertrude, at first coming out on top. From such an interpretation Rhoda's destiny would be fixed: rejection and an ultimate descendancy on the social scale.


However, Hardy resorts to the ideas and principles of the PARANORMAL to alter Rhoda's fate. Rhoda uses a PARANORMAL RITUAL, namely a MESMERIC TRANCE to change the course of her destiny. SUPERNATURAL FORCES take over in two stages: Gertrude's beauty is blighted; her death follows. Each of these stages I shall deal with in turn.

In my Next Posting in a day or two I shall open up the two Novels I have mentioned and explore them from the Paranormal perspective.

Until then, dig into the two novels.

Any Comments?

Picture Credits: Wikipedia Commons

Monday, 28 March 2011



Here we go again! Having indulged in some extremely enjoyable Chess Games, it is time to return to my blog.

In the next couple of days I shall Post a discussion of Thomas Hardy's novel, 'The Withered Arm, ' to be followed by his, 'The Return of the Native.' The emphasis will be upon THE PARANORMAL elements within the works and to some extent how DARWINISM affected Hardy.


Until the Post, enjoy Life

Picture credit Wikipedia Commons

Wednesday, 9 March 2011



In the last Post I presented some ideas concerning the Social Background of the Fairy Tale; I cast some doubt upon the general assumption regarding the height of the Giant; finally, I mentioned the codes of Angl-Saxon justice

In th  
Now it is time to explore the various ARCHETYPES in the Fairy Tale. I shall spend some considerable time examining the maneuverings of the SHADOW and CRUCIALLY WHAT HAPPENS IN THE STORY WHEN THE SHADOW TRANSMUTES.

Right, off we go. Let us begin with the ARCHETYPE OF THE MOTHER. Right at the outset I must state that I am NOT RIGIDLY interpreting the ARCHETYPES. As you will see I am deliberately FLEXIBLE in their interpretation. I take this position because, I think such an approach allows a deeper insight into the story and shows how people change under various circumstances and pressures.

We have established previously that the MOTHER ARCHETYPE relates to Nurturing, Caring, Training, Providing for and Protecting the young. So the ideal MOTHER ARCHETYPE would have these attributes in perfect balance. She would teach and train her offspring with Love and Kindness, yet where discipline is required it would be administered fairly and properly. In short, her offspring would know the role of the Mother. But is this the ARCHETYPAL pattern we see in Jack’s Mother?


It seems that this is not the case. Her offspring, young Jack, is described as her “only child … whom she INDULGED to a fault”.  The origin of the word, ‘indulged’ throws some light on Jack’s Mother. In the early 17th century the word took on the meaning of  treating one with EXCESSIVE kindness. It comes from the Latin word, “indulgere”, which has the sense of ‘giving free rein” to something. So, although Jack’s Mother had PROTECTED his life when she fled with him from the Giant, and had tried to bring him up, NURTURING him, as best she could, even attempting to sell her cow to keep them alive.

Incidentally, the COW is also AN ARCHETYPE.  The cow is at the point of sale,  their only means of sustenance. Notice the cow goes to the Butcher, so like the classic Scapegoat its life is going to be taken so that the family can live on. The COW  is a very important ARCHETYPE throughout the world, both ancient and modern. For example in Ancient Egypt the Goddess Nut is associated with the cow. Hathor, also was worshipped by the Egyptians as a cow-deity. In this role she was considered the great nurturer and sustainer of everything. As a nourisher the Cow appears in Norse mythology, in Vedic literature, and to this day considered to be India’s most sacred animal. It well depicts this role in our story. Just a word on the Butcher, before reverting to Jack and the Mother. The Butcher well personifies the TRICKSTER. Look how he sets out deliberately to cheat Jack


“The Butcher held some curious beans in his hat; they were of various colours and ATTRACTED JACK’S NOTICE. This did not pass unnoticed by the Butcher; who knowing Jack’s temperament thought it was now time TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT, and determined not to let slip so good an OPPORTUNITY….. the SILLY BOY” deceived by the sly Butcher “the cow was exchanged for a few paltry beans.”

Going back to Jack’s Mother, once he had grown past childhood, she ABDICATED her role. Her role as the ARCHETYPAL MOTHER was subordinated to something else. The SHADOW surfaced in her personality. The end result was that Jack, ‘did not pay the least attention to anything she said, but was indolent, careless, and extravagant.’

Let me isolate one or two of the elements attributable to the SHADOW, which had surfaced within her personality. If you need to, look back at the Previous Posts to see my interpretation of this ARCHETYPE. Jack’s Mother  became a WORRIER, often coming to tears, because of Jack’s idleness and their increasing poverty. She becomes afflicted with RAGES, one example is her throwing the Beans out of the window in anger, ‘she kicked the beans away in a passion,’ and then retreating to bed without any supper. But that is not all. She becomes ILL through the anxiety vibrations generated by the SHADOW. This occurred after Jack’s disappearance up the Beanstalk for the second time. When he returns with the bags of gold his Mother recovers. But what happens to the MOTHER ARCHETYPE? Does it reappear? I shall return to that point after I have discussed the ARCHETYPAL elements within Jack.

When the story opens Jack seems to be dominated by the vibrations of the SHADOW. Any normal, appreciative son would do what he could to ease the burden on his Mother. But as I have pointed out he takes the opposite attitude, being completely disobedient, ‘indolent and extravagent’.

Jack becomes the HERO ARCHETYPE in spite of himself: it is thrust upon him. We learn later that the wizened old woman, the Fairy influenced the whole drama, without Jack’s being aware of it. She  is obviously a HELPER ARCHETYPE and she tells Jack when they meet on the road to the Giant’s house:

The day on which you met the Butcher as you went to sell your Mother’s cow, my power was restored. It was I who secretly prompted you to take the beans in exchange for the cow. By my power the Beanstalk grew to so great a height and formed a ladder. I need not add that I inspired you with a strong desire to ascend the ladder.

How she did this is not explained. One wonders HOW the INSPIRATION was achieved:  because the fairy is an ARCHETYPE, and so is Jack, is she operating WITHIN his psyche? If so, how did she maneuvre the Butcher into position and cause the Beanstalk to grow? I am sure you will be able to work this one out.


There is no doubt that Jack subordinates THE SHADOW and takes on the role of the HERO ARCHETYPE. This is abundantly clear when we see how he braves the threat of death when entering the Giant’s lair; we see this manifested when he creeps out of hiding on more than one occasion and seizes, the hen, the bags of gold, and the harp. It surely took enormous courage to snatch these objects from under the Monster’s nose and then flee out of the Giant’s lair, run down the Beanstalk, hurriedly chop it down whilst the Giant is in hot pursuit and watch the ogre plunge to his death.

There is no doubt about it Jack successfully TRANSMUTES THE SHADOW. When?

We first notice the glimmer of a change when he intends for the first time to ascend the Beanstalk to ‘seek his fortune’. The MUTATION deepens when, after climbing the Beanstalk he sits down exhausted on a stone and he then thinks of his Mother ‘and reflected with sorrow on his disobedience in climbing the beanstalk.’ Yes, Jack is beginning to change the SHADOW is being transmuted. He is FACING IT, not rationalizing it away.

But he will go deeper yet and produce profound effects within the story.  Once Jack meets the Fairy on the road and she recounts the misfortune the Giant brought upon Jack and his Mother, once she tells him of the courage his Mother displayed in pleading for his life and eventually hiding him safely away, once Jack learns all of this the TRANSMUTATION is almost complete. We see how he braves danger after danger and in EVERY instance gives to his mother the proceeds of his dangerous undertakings. His EXTRAVAGANCE has gone.

Look at his statement of REPENTENCE and the evidence that the SHADOW within has been TRANSMUTED. He gives his Mother the hen and then says:

I have brought home that which will quickly make YOU rich without any trouble: I hope I have made you some amends for the affliction I have caused you through my idleness, extravagence, and folly.

Once Jack had TRANSMUTED THE SHADOW within himself it had several effects. First, he and his Mother became very rich, and after he had successfully killed the Giant, and promised ‘to be dutifully obedient to her in the future’, his Mother’ whole personality changes; so does hers. She TRANSMUTES THE SHADOW and he and his mother ‘lived together a great many years and continued to be very happy.’

This would seem like the end of the discussion, but not so. There are one or two other elements that need to be explored in relation to the SHADOW.

Let us go back into the Giant’s domain. I want to suggest that the Giant is – if not specifically – the SHADOW of Jack’s father. This is not to say that he is part of the father’s psyche, rather he is the DARKNESS corresponding to the light of Jack’s father. As we shall see the entire psyche of the Giant corresponds to the SHADOW.

But before I develop this further. I would like to comment – NOT dogmatically – that the tumbledown Cottage that Jack and his Mother lived in BEFORE Jack and she TRANSMUTED the SHADOW within their natures, may well be the SHADOW aspect of either their former home, or at a stretch, the Giant’s house with its ‘large hall magnificently furnished’  and several other “spacious rooms all in the same style of grandeur”. Now, we need to go back to the Giant.


As far as the Giant is concerned there is not a single redeeming feature. He is totally manipulated by the vibrations of the SHADOW within his psyche. What is of interest is that once Jack faces up to the Giant it is as if he is FACING THE SHADOW. As a result the MUTATION of the SHADOW within his own nature takes place.

Now, what makes us believe that the Giant was all SHADOW. Let us look at the catalogue of his behaviour.

When Jack, after climbing the Beanstalk, he is told by the Fairy that the Giant was,

As wicked as your father was good; he was in his heart envious, covetous and cruel; but he had the art of concealing these vices …. and wished to enrich himself at any rate.

He was also a liar, and a calculating murderer, deceiving Jack’s father into taking him in and then plotting to kill his benefactor. This he does along with the Porter and the Nurse. Even though he allows Jack and his mother to slip away, but later the Giant ‘repented that he had suffered her to escape.’ He then proceeds to burn down the familiy’s ancestral property.

He is also a cannibal, having a dungeon within his house to keep the prisoners whom he will later eat. He even treats his wife in a despicable manner: not only does he have her running around, waiting on him hand and  foot, he also ‘frequently lifted up his hand to strike his wife for not being quick enough’. Truly, he was a ‘very ill-tempered and impatient’ individual. For good measure he ‘was continually upbraiding her with the loss of the hen’ which Jack had stolen.


Much more could be said about this PERSONIFICATION OF THE SHADOW but the narrative sums it up perfectly: Jack intends to steal the Harp because, ‘the Giant’s SOUL was not ATTUNED to harmony.’ He had to die.

When the Giant is killed, the SHADOW vibrations have ceased in the Fairy Tale. When this has occurred both Jack and his Mother become perfectly attuned: the SHADOW has been TRANSMUTED. It is of interest that once this TRANSMUTATION has taken place the Fairy appears both to Jack and his Mother. He Fairy explains the drama behind the Beanstalk and once this explanation had been given, ‘Jack was now fully cleared in the opinion of his Mother.’

So in these two Posts I have tried to show that there are many levels on which Fairy Tales such as this one can be understood. They have endured for centuries and been found all over the world because of one simple fact: they are replete with ARCHETYPES, and these ARCHETYPES are part of our own Nature. Consequently, when we are reading Fairy Tales, we are in some ways looking at ourselves.

I hope you have enjoyed this Post even though much more could have been said. If the discussion has served as a stimulus in some way, then the purpose has been fulfilled.

In the next Post I shall return to ‘The Paranormal in Victorian Literature’ and examine Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘The Return of the Native.’

Any Comments
Picture Credits Wikipedia Commons
Source : “The History of Jack and the Beanstalk’, Tabart, London 1807

Monday, 7 March 2011



The Story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ concerns a widow and her son, Jack. The two of them are sinking into poverty and as a last resort the Mother instructs Jack to sell the family cow. On the way to the market Jack meets the Butcher who tricks him into selling the animal for a few beans. Jack’s Mother is furious at this and in desperation hurls the beans through the window and they go to bed hungry. However, the beans are magical and grow into a stalk that reaches the sky. Jack climbs it, discovers an unfamiliar land, and steals a giant's treasure. To retrieve his treasure the giant pursues Jack. But as the Giant descends the beanstalk, Jack succeeds in chopping it down. As a result the Giant  is killed in the fall. We learn that the treasure once belonged to Jack’s father who the Giant killed years before. With the death of the Giant, Jack and his mother live happily ever after, having become  exceedingly rich.

There are many variations of this tale, some allegedly were either transmitted orally or written down.The version I am using was written by Benjamin Tabart in 1807. He claims to have copied it from earlier manuscripts. For our purposes Tabart’s sources do not matter.


The setting of the story is ‘in the days of King Alfred’ around 871-899 AD. The place is ‘a cottage …. In a remote country village many miles from London.’ To get the flavour of this tale and then probe its Archetypal content it would be fitting to describe the SOCIAL CONDITIONS existing in the days of Alfred the Great (831-899 AD) and then compare these conditions with the descriptions given in our story. We need to ask, does Tabart capture the social conditions of King Alfred’s time or does his tale better reflect 19th Century assumptions.


Once I have looked at the Social Conditions,  I am going to explore what is meant by a ‘Giant’. I and many others heard this Fairy Tale when we were young and a definite concept of THE GIANT was conjured up.  We were led to believe that the size of the Giant in this story is somehow equivalent to the height of Gulliver when he visits Lilliput.

Whether this assumption is true or not, I leave you to judge from the evidence presented.

Finally, I shall move to my main topic THE ARCHETYPES in the Fairy Tale. After dealing with one or two lesser ARCHETYPES I shall concentrate most of the discussion around the SHADOW, its various MANIFESTATIONS, and then what happens when the SHADOW is TRANSMUTED.

Let us lead off with the social conditions in the 9th Century AD.

There is an ANACHRONISM when the tale mentions the Giant counting his GUINEAS. There was no such unit of coinage in the days of King Alfred nor was any minted after 1817. From a historical point of view the Guinea originated from a British gold coin that was first minted in 1663. This coin  was minted from gold imported from West Africa. The value was LATER fixed at 21 shillings – known as a guinea. Because it was replaced by the Sovereign in 1817, this suggests that Tabart’s tale, irrespective of whether or not he claimed an earlier manuscript – is fixed around 1807.

Let us look at the social condition of Jack and his Mother that is described in the Tale. We see they live in ‘a cottage’,  located in ‘a remote country village, a great many miles from London’. Jack apparently does not work, for he is described as ‘indolent, careless, and extravagant.’ They were also poor because, ‘scarcely anything remained but a cow’. Even her garden does not grow sufficient food for they have to buy what they need. For good measure, his mother is also described as a widow. Apparently, the cottage is in a fairly dilapidated condition, for when they seize the Giant’s treasure the house ‘is repaired and WELL FURNISHED.’

Evidently, they are at the bottom end of the social structure. With the above facts in mind, we need to see how Society was organized in King Alfred’s day.

The deeper we probe the narrative the more obvious it is that it does not capture the Days of King Alfred. It is unlikely that people at the social level of Jack and his Mother, without any true means of substance would have been in position to own their own cottage.  From the stand point of Alfred’s time there would be no such thing as ‘well furnished’. A 19th century reader would hardly call rude cottages with dirt floors and walls that were likely to be woven reeds chinked with mud (wattle and daub) or small stones, chinked with mud, WELL FURNISHED. The roofs of such cottages were generally thatched reeds. As for keeping warm in winter,  they only had fires, built on the dirt floors. These were  in the middle of the room. Tabart is influenced by his own time and unwittingly slips his situation into the story.


Let us go a little deeper. At that time people in their class would either be serfs or freemen. The Serfs would render so many days of Labour to the Lord of the Manor. On the other hand, Freemen, who were also known as Free-tenants. These were essentially, RENT PAYING Tenant Farmers who owed little or no service to the lord. But in Alfred’s days such Freemen were not so Common, for in the 11th century it has been estimated that such people composed only about 10 per cent of the population. So, Jack, and his mother would fall into one of the two classes. What we see, however, is that Jack seems to have plenty of free time, performs no labour service, yet at the same time no reference is made to paying any rent. The assumption seems to be that they owned their own cottage – hardly likely and were thus free of any obligations. I suggest that once more Tabart is weaving 19th century social conditions into the narrative.

If this was truly Anglo-Saxon England then  it would NOT have been the case that Jack’s Mother BOUGHT the food and just drank the cow’s milk. The Anglo-Saxon  villagers grew their own crops, and kept animals. But a cow and a garden that produced nothing was out of the question: the villagers WORKED HARD because they had to provide all their food for themselves. How was it done? Each family  grew their own corn; they grew fruit and vegetables and took their corn to the local mill for grinding into flour. Enough has been said. Jack could not possibly have idled his time away, or they would long since have starved.
Also depending on the sort of village to which they belonged, they would be expected to contribute along with the rest of the village in paying RENT to the LORD ‘in kind’, that is, with goods instead of with money. 


This would be part of the produce which they grew or some of the animals, geese, hens and other animals. They might even have to contribute cheese and butter. Thus it is seen that Tabart is squeezing the conditions of his own time into those of Jack and his Mother, alleged to be living in the days of King Alfred. 

I must make one final point before moving on. This concerns THE LAW and notions of SOCIAL JUSTICE in the days of King Alfred. As the story progresses we learn that the GIANT had killed Jack’s father, stolen his money and burned down his house. The giant WOULD NEVER HAVE GOT AWAY WITH IT. Tabart misses the mark completely regarding SOCIAL JUSTICE.


There were two key principles in Anglo-Saxon Law. First that a man’s loyalty to his Lord was of greatest importance. A man was expected to obey his lord un-conditionally. In return for this obedience his lord protected his men. If one was murdered, the dead man's family would appeal to the lord to punish the murderer The Lord would see to it that this was done. The second principle was that a man's family and relations would support him in any circumstances. If something had been stolen from him, he would get his family together to punish the thief.

Therefore, had this been truly set in Anglo-Saxon England, the widow would long since have been avenged, her fortune restored, and the Giant punished.

Of course, after all, it is only a story; even so, I hope it is of interest to open it out on several levels.

With that in mind, let us explore the PHYSICAL details concerning the GIANT.

There is something rather strange about the Giant. As I remarked earlier, I, and many others, were brought up with this story and led to believe that the Giant was of enormous size, even taller than a normal house. However, a closer examination of this story seems to undermine such a notion.


We notice there is no mention of his SIZE by anyone in the story except a passing reference to it by his wife.   Even so, she simply says, “for it was well known that HER HUSBAND was a LARGE AND POWERFUL GIANT”, But she does not define HOW LARGE. We shall see when we come to look at her, that this so called “Giant’ was perhaps only a little over six feet tall perhaps. I must emphasise that by comprison with him ordinary people were NOT the size of Tom Thumb. There are several reasons for this:

1. No one refers to his extraordinary height except his wife, later on in the tale

2. The Giant  is ‘given .. apartments’ in Jack’s father’s house. No reference is made to any alterations in either the physical structure of the rooms nor in the furniture to befit his size. One assumes from this that he was perhaps a little more than average height.

3. When Jack is in hiding and watching the Giant. The Giant places a hen in front of him. This hen, at once  lays Golden Eggs. These eggs are taken as normal size. Jack steals the animal and takes it home. The Giant did not need a magnifying glass to see either the hen or the eggs. If the man was of gargantuan height the hen would be the size of a mouse and the  eggs would be the size of  peas.
4. When the ‘Giant’ enveigles his way into the favour of Jack’s father and is taken by him into the library, Jack’s father handed him ‘a favourite book’, once more of normal size.

5. The Giant eventually stabs Jack’s father to death and later kills the Porter and the Nurse. Not, we might add, by picking them up and squeezing them, but presumably the same way that he had killed Jack’s father, by stabbing him. But his REACTION gives away his physical height. After the killing of these individuals Jack and his mother are allowed to escape. Now, notice the FEARFUL reaction of the Giant, “He had his own SAFETY to provide for, as it was necessary he should be gone before the servants returned.” Clearly there is not an enormous difference in scale; the servants are not like miniature people, or ants by comparison. Evidently, the Giant believes they could OVERPOWER him.

6. Because of these apparent anomalies, it might be better to consider the specific meaning the word, Giant’ took on in the 1530s. Apparently from that date the word  ‘Giant’ took on the meaning of those individuals who ‘have ANY quality in extraordinary degree. Well this unnamed ‘giant’ certainly did have distinctive attributes, cruelty, murder, thievery. Maybe he also had a physical build that was somewhat larger than normal. But this, as I said, is not commented on, whereas his other ‘GIANT’ attributes are dealt with at length.

7. In line with the above, the story uses a synonym for Giant when it says “At last THE MONSTER seated himself by the fireside while his wife prepared supper”

8. We can also arrive at the conclusion I have just outlined by bringing the Giant’s Wife into the discussion.  When she first meets Jack, she recognizes that he is ‘a Human Being’ but makes NO COMMENT about Jack’s size. So, it seems to me that she was approximately the same height as Jack. Even when she takes Jack through various rooms, no comment is made about the furniture. In fact “for it was well known that HER HUSBAND was a LARGE AND POWERFUL GIANT”, the assumption being that she was not in any way out of the ordinary. But not so small that she would not be able to serve him food, or look after him in the way she does.

Furthermore, recent studies have shown that the average height in Medieval England, in the area of London where our tale is set, was 5 feet 7 and a half inches for men; for women it was 5 feet 3 inches. Therefore anyone well over six feet in height could easily be considered a Giant without too much alteration needed in furniture or apartment facilities. Obviously if our ‘Giant’ was also of a heavy build it would add to the impression. Perhaps he was about six feet six inches tall – about 1.98 meters.

I think that I enough for now. In the next Post I shall explore the Archetypes as they Manifest themselves in the Story. THE SHADOW will be of particular interest.

I hope I did not take away too much romance from the Tale – anyway, I shall not have nightmares any more.

Any Comments

Picture Credits Wikimedia Commons

SOURCE: “The History of Jack and the Beanstalk’, Tabart, London 1807

Saturday, 26 February 2011



In the previous Post I showed George Eliot’s familiarity with, and sometimes her attempted practice of Paranormal experiments. In addition I indicated that she wrote ‘The Lifted Veil’ as a WARNING concerning the dangers of such practices.

We pick up now at the point where the VEIL on Latimer’s Mind begins to lift in a new and more horrific fashion. He speaks of a new’phase in my abnormal sensibility’ that has ‘not been alive before.’ He begins to receive the intrusion into his mind ‘of the mental processes … in first one person and then another.’ So, he begins to receive UNWANTED, frivolous thoughts of casual acquaintances. But what was the result?

The result was these thoughts were so trivial, so shallow and as irritating as ‘ an ill-played musical instrument, or the loud activity of an  imprisoned insect.’ This crowding out of his own thoughts and the TELEPATHIC insight into others was such that he was exhausted. In fact, when the activity ceased now and again, he ‘felt a relief such as silence brings to wearied nerves.’ (I)

But the TELEPATHIC intrusion becomes even worse. He begins to read the Minds of his own family. This ultimately alienates him from them. He discovers that their words and deeds are based on TRIVIAL THOUGHTS , meanness, egoism; it even seems that his own brother is nothing more than a conceited self-seeking person. The end result is such that Latimer concludes that his brother’s kindness good humour, and friendliness is nothing more than a wily trick. This leads to his hating his brother.



Now, what is George Eliot trying to tell us?

George Eliot is trying to say that LIFTING THE VEIL is completely destructive. It is necessary for the thoughts and motives of others to be blanked off from us. If this were not so, life would be intolerable: humans are not perfect and allowance should be made for their weaknesses.

When we turn to Bertha Grant, the woman who will fatally ruin Latimer, George Eliot presents the reader with a strange paradox.


The paradox is this. Latimer receives no warning PREMONITIONS or TELEPATHIC insights into the woman’s true character, not until he marries her. At that point his doom is sealed. He had previous to his marriage, developed a passion for her simply because ‘Bertha was the only being’ whose Mind he could not penetrate. He speaks of himself as ‘completely under her sway’, as if he were a MESMERISED subject. This hints at the power of the woman’s eyes being fixed upon him, referred to earlier. The only WARNING he had received was the painful sensation mentioned previously. I feel sure, that had Latimer been able to access her Mind at that time an alienation would have occurred between them.

Nevertheless, Latimer seemed to receive an OMEN, followed by a VISION, which directly bore on the personality of Bertha and his future involvement with her.



The OMEN and the VISION occur to Latimer when Bertha Grant becomes engaged to his brother. At this time Latimer is in the Lichtenberg Palace gazing at a picture of the infamous Lucrezia Borgia, who had disposed of her husbands once they had served their purpose – this picture is in itself an omen. Shortly after this the VISION arises. We need to take it apart piece by piece:

I seemed to be suddenly in darkness, out of which there gradually broke a dim fire-light, and I felt myself sitting in my father’s leather chair in the library at home.

So,  Latimer, is still within the Lichtenberg Palace and is MESMERICALLY whisked away back home. Notice his FEELINGS whilst experiencing the VISION. He say, ‘Intense and hopeless misery was pressing on my soul.’ What happens next in the VISION is highly significant:

The light became stronger, for Bertha was entering with a candle in her hand – Bertha, MY WIFE – with cruel eyes, with green jewels, and green leaves on her white ball dress.

Look at what happens next – but remember it is only a VISION, not physical reality, not something, which Latimer might take as absolute:

Every hateful THOUGHT within her present to me …. “Madman, Idiot! Why don’t you kill yourself, then? It was a moment of hell. I saw into her pitiless soul – saw its barren worldliness, its scorching hate. (I)

This vision has a number of implications: Latimer is to be married to Bertha despite her being engaged to his brother. But, how is this to be? Quite simply, his brother’s death removes this obstacle. The above vision, in revealing Bertha’s true nature, should have deterred Latimer from marrying her. But fate seemed to have inevitably decreed

otherwise.  This idea of FATE is worth pursuing, unfortunately, not here. How then do things work out? Three elements now come to the fore: first his brother dies and Latimer and Bertha marry; second, once they marry Latimer gains TELEPATHIC access to Bertha’s Mind for the first time; finally, the vision had shown the abject misery into which he would be plunged once Latimer married Bertha. This misery is confirmed by what he sees once the VEIL is lifted from Bertha’s Mind.

He sees pettiness, craftiness, the complete absence of something positive or good. He saw a vain, ‘scheming selfishness’, saw someone who had a deep hatred for him and deliberately delivered emotional pain for its own gratification.

The sad part is, that despite the agony of his life, Latimer seems to be in the grip of a MESMERIC SPELL.  He cannot break out:

I was  too completely swayed by the sense that I was in the grip of unknown FORCES…Towards my own destiny I had become entirely passive (II)

In fulfillment of the OMEN incorporated in the picture of Lucrezia Borgia, Bertha sets out to kill Latimer. Her Maid, a party to the conspiracy dies without divulging any information, but Latimer’s old friend Meunier, a highly qualified doctor resuscitates her.  The Maid then reveals the plan to kill Latimer.


The incident when the physician resuscitates Bertha is important for a number of reasons. First, the physician had lifted the veil, which cuts off communication between the living and the dead. Thus, it accords with the belief of the SPIRITUALISTS that such a veil could be drawn aside and that the dead could communicate via a MEDIUM. Secondly, this is a attempt to remove the Veil totally and restore the person in the flesh, not just in the spirit. So, it is as if Latimer receives the fateful message, in a sense, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.

In the final stages of the Novel George Eliot delivers the strongest possible warning through the experiences of Latimer. He receives visions … of strange cities’ and of isolated places.’


During these new visions ‘one presence seemed to weigh’ on Latimer, ‘the presence of something unknown and pitiless’. His experiences are soon to result in ‘continual suffering’ along with the annihilation of any religious faith he has. His is to be replaced by ‘a worship of devils.’ (II)

I must interrupt the narrative for the moment and comment on the strange paradox of George Eliot herself. For example, considering the last paragraph, we notice the authoress’ condemnatory tone in connection with Latimer’s visions. In what sense? According to her apparent outlook the Paranormal experiences had led Latimer to do two things – both deplorable in the authoress’ eyes. They were:

1. His visions had annihilated his Religious Faith

2. The Annihilation of his Religious Faith resulted in the ‘worship of devils’.

So, turning this on its head the authoress suggests that Paranormal Experiences should be avoided because she feels that Religious Faith is Healthy and that Religious Faith will protect one from the ‘worship of Devils’.
Now here is the paradox relating to the authoress herself. Not only had she translated two books, which cast doubt on Christianity,: Strauss’ ‘Life of Jesus’ and Feuerbach’s , ‘Essence of Christianity’, she was also a friend of Charles Darwin and the philosopher Herbert Spencer. Both of whom rejected traditional religious beliefs. It is well known that she rejected Christianity. Why then would she seem to suggest that the destruction of one’s Religious Beliefs place one in a dangerous position. Was she in a dangerous position herself? It makes one ponder where George Eliot really stood. She could simply have shown that under the pressure of Paranormal Experiences Latimer went mad. Why one wonders did she introduce religion at all in this context.

Anyway, back to the novel. Concurrent with this vision Latimer’s relationship with his associates becomes ‘more and more deadened.’ (II). If we accept that this series of visions portrays George Eliot’s own position, ignoring the enigma in the previous paragraph, we conclude that Latimer’s personality disintegrates; that George Eliot seems to have a revulsion for Paranormal Practices which make such VISIONARY INSIGHTS possible.



In fulfillment of the vision Latimer separates from Bertha, wanders in a number of foreign countries isolated from all human contact, and continually experiences the horror of the ‘Unknown Presence’ within (II)

Eventually, the torment of living in a Universe bereft of any Religious Consolation is too great a burden for him, so Latimer returns home completely broken. At this point he receives a PREVISION of his own death. This is both the conclusion of the story and its opening narration.

Why then have I discussed ‘The Lifted Veil’

I have done so for a number of reasons. This novel describes in some detail the different activities of those engaged in the Paranormal: Latimer’s somnambulistic CLAIRVOYANCE was an echo of the abilities claimed by various individuals I referred to in earlier Posts; the description of Latimer ‘in the grip of unknown forces’ resembles the condition that the MESMERISER introduced in his subject; TELEPATHY was also a capability claimed for a person in a MESMERISED state as I have previously discussed at length.

The second reason for discussing this novel is too show George Eliot’s apparent revulsion for practices such as these. Many of the Victorians whom I have discussed at length believed that a new era for Human Society would open up if PHRENOLOGY was employed to discover a person’ potential and then harness it. The same improvement in Society, they believed, would be possible if the powers of the Human Mind could be unleashed by lifting the VEIL on the future, or by TELEPATHY.

In this novel it seems that George Eliot took the opposite view. He explores the consequences of lifting the Veil on normal everyday experiences and examines the implications of EXTENDING the operation of HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS in this direction. Instead of producing happiness it produced abject misery. The horrors of Latimer’ situation increase in proportion to the strength and frequency of his Paranormal Abilities.

I suggest, therefore, that ‘The Lifted Veil’ is George Eliot’s declaration of her abhorrence of following the Victorian practice of dabbling with the Paranormal. In this novel her view seems to be that in order to be reasonably happy,  Humans must live within the bounds of  LIMITED knowledge. TELEPATHIC insight would result in the alienation of individuals from each other; Society would fragment because man’s baser instincts would be laid bare. In order for Social Groups to cohere these Animalistic Drives need to be veiled or masked.

I am sure there is room for a discussion about the SHADOW here.

Well, there we are.

I am going to deal with the ARCHETYPES in Jack and the Beanstalk next. After, which I shall return to the Paranormal in Victorian Literature with a discussion of two novels by Thomas Hardy, “The Withered Arm” and “The return of the Native”

Anyway, we’ll climb the Beanstalk next.

I hope the Post has been of interest.

Any Comments?

Picture Sources Wikimedia Commons