Ellen Wood’s George Canterbury’s Will (1870) and Pen Oliver’s1 All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life (1886) form part of a small trend of sensation works in the late Victorian period – other examples being Maggie Symington’s Bessie Gordon’s Story (1874) and Samuel Tinsley’s Married for Money (1875) – that use paternal infanticide as a tool to highlight the uncertain position of fathers in the late nineteenth century.2 In this unstable period, branded by John Tosh a period of ‘“paternal domestic flight”,3 masculinity was being reshaped through numerous avenues: club culture, empire, women’s rights. It is through this emerging, if small, pattern of infanticidal texts that present-day readers can interpret the domestic impact of such masculine, specifically father-based, remodelling. In this article, I have chosen to examine Wood and Oliver’s texts because they both use the same literary device, child murder, to address the declining financial autonomy of men in the late-Victorian period. The closing decades of the nineteenth century saw the struggle for women’s equality manifest within Victorian law. The Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882 granted women the economic freedoms and financial autonomy that were previously stripped from them through the bonds of matrimony.4 Alongside women’s economic liberation, both Wood and Oliver’s works evoke contrasting emotions and fears of financial emasculation, the novel’s murderous step-father narratives capturing the loss of autonomous domestic manhood. In this reading, I suggest that both works not only reflect contemporary feelings towards paternal child murder, but also symbolise the instability of masculine economic sovereignty in the late-Victorian period. Moreover, the feminine imagery both novelists conjure contributes to the idea of the position of men as financially castrated. It is through a 21st century reading of these sensational texts that we can form clearer notions of disinheritance as a traumatic event and understand the changing and uncertain roles of late-Victorian manhood through a lens of violence.
George Canterbury’s Will was initially serialised in Tinsley’s Magazine between 1869-70 and appeared as a standalone reprint in 1870. Reflecting the unstable gendered power dynamics of the period, the protagonist, Major Barnaby Dawkes, is rendered financially powerless through his notorious habits as a spendthrift. This status is only heightened after he marries the rich widow, Mrs Canterbury, not realising that her money is entrusted to Thomas, her son from her previous marriage who will inherit the money when he comes of age at twenty-one. The plot sees Dawkes attempting to come to terms with his lack of economic autonomy and failing, then fatally poisoning his stepson with chloral, much to the horror of his wife. Mirroring gothic narratives of incarceration, Dawkes, with the help of his sister Keziah, confines Mrs Canterbury, now Mrs Dawkes, to their country estate, the Rock. Whilst imprisoned, her health deteriorates and she secretly makes a will, granting her witnesses access through a secret postern-door. The novel climaxes with the revelation of the secret will after her death, and Dawkes is left with a mere twenty-five pounds to purchase a mourning ring as punishment for his brutal deed.
All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life, published by Kegan Paul in a three volume edition, follows a similar structure. The poor aristocrat Lord Arthur Wynstanley marries the rich widow, Mrs Hope-Kennedy, in the hope of living a comfortable, financially fulfilled life as head of their domestic haven. Their fortune, however, is entrusted to his step-son, Walter, who is about to come of age. After Walter suffers a riding accident, his welfare and recovery are assigned to Wynstanley, who slowly poisons him with an overdose of morphia in the hope of retaining his own economic sovereignty. He is eventually discovered by a doctor who keeps his secret quiet because of a bond of manliness. Wynstanley is plagued with the guilt of his actions and subsequently dies.
Although these novels do not directly address the law on women’s property, they do convey the contemporary feeling leading up to and post legislative change, a shift that affected gender dynamics and destabilised the masculine role within the family. The Married Women’s Property Act 1870 and Amendment 1875 (1875) note that, before the 1870 Act, a woman had “no recognised status: her position was one of disability and immunity.” (Griffith 1) Similarly Mary Shanley comments that the 1882 Act was “the single most important change in the legal status of women in the nineteenth century.” (103) Although the significance of these Acts cannot be doubted in the progressive movement towards women’s rights, society’s increasing advancement towards gender equality evidently caused men to question their position as household sovereigns. As Shanley notes, in this period there was an overpowering “fear that married women’s economic rights would undermine male political hegemony as well as men’s control within the family” (104). By understanding the tensions surrounding male emasculation within this time frame, it is clear that although George Canterbury’s Will and All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life deal purely with the financial injustice between stepfather and stepson, these texts arguably create a pathology of economic trauma, reflecting contextual anxieties regarding masculine control and domestic dominance. In a reversal of gendered power, both stepfathers are essentially denied monetary influence and control, generating imagery of women’s oppressed legal positions before the Acts granted them some form of monetary autonomy.
The two stepfathers, Dawkes and Wynstanley, contribute to the Victorian stereotype of the evil stepfather. Although classic examples of violent stepfathers resonate through the Victorian literary canon – Mr Murdstone in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850) through to Dr. Grimesby Roylott in Conan Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ (1892) – Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novels helped to secure their sensational literary presence. Leading up to Wood and Oliver’s problematic fatherly figures, Braddon’s novels The Lady Lisle (1861), Birds of Prey (1867) and Charlotte’s Inheritance (1868) present the stepfather as a criminal, the latter two branding him murderous;5 her later novel Vixen (1879) equally focusses on a villainous, invasive stepfather, whose name, Conrad Winstanley, draws parallels with Oliver’s later antihero, Wynstanley. Wilkie Collins’s Armadale (1866) features a corrupt stepfather, from whom Ozias Midwinter is forced to flee. Similarly other sensation works such as Anne Manning’s Meadow Leigh (1864) and the anonymous Harold Freeheart (1876) presented the stepfather as a character of criminal repute, both novels’ heroines being wrongly confined under his command.
Typically, stepfathers are automatically associated with having a predatory nature; they are able to manoeuvre themselves into an already established rich family and claim ultimate domestic authority. Franco Moretti states that it is:
the stepfather, the adoptive father who steps in to seize the inheritance […]. founded on the authority of the real father and sanctioned by the family tie, which moderates and spiritualizes individual egoism. The stepfather barges into this Victorian idyll, to break and degrade all ties for his exclusive gain. The stepfather is there to illustrate the difference between a ‘father’ (motivated by his children’s well-being) and a ‘private citizen’ (who wants to rob them). (140)
Within Wood and Oliver’s texts specifically, both Dawkes and Wynstanley demonstrate Moretti’s point, killing their stepchildren for the selfish motives of wealth and social standing. As this chapter has previously established, Dawkes and Wynstanley have no money of their own and are entirely bereft of any familial economic power, their wives in control of their monetary mobility and their stepsons inheriting that financial authority at the age of twenty-one. Indeed, as Claudia Nelson proposes, step-parents in the Victorian period “are often presumed to see their partner’s children as more or less inconvenient encumbrances, accepted as the price of a desirable marriage” (166); the stepfathers in these novels are presented as economically emasculated and fiercely driven to a point of financial desperation and submission. In George Canterbury’s Will Dawkes states “I must get some money […]. I must get it; that’s all” (Wood 190), and:
“Should Caroline [his wife] die in the boy’s lifetime, the income she enjoys lapses to him; should he die in hers, while he is a minor, his money lapses to her […]. by Jove when I remember sometimes that miserable little unit of six years old is keeping me out of wealth, I’m — I’m — savage.” (191)
Similarly, in All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life, Wynstanley refuses to talk about his stepson’s coming of age, the novel declaring that “that necessary and sole obstacle to his own future happiness and power was fast arising in the person of the promising youth, in whose interest he had so long laboured.”6 (Oliver 13) This sense of powerlessness contributes to both stepfathers’ emasculation and subsequent, frenzied decision to resort to child murder.
The previous descriptions reflect deep anxieties surrounding the contemporary challenge to men’s economic supremacy. As Nelson reveals, both Married Women’s Property Acts “addressed the ‘family question’ by permitting wives to unite the stereotypical roles of both parents (the moral responsibility of the mother, the financial responsibility of the father)” (195). Whilst feminist critics focus upon the progression of women’s rights, praising the gradual merging of the Victorian ideological gendered spheres, little has been considered regarding the consequential traumatic displacement of masculinity; the once autonomous leader of the home now stripped of his sovereignty and reduced to economic redundancy.7 Ultimately, the texts highlight and dramatise the ramifications of the epicene father, both stepfathers suspended within their domestic realm, unable to control their financial, and therefore social, mobility. Having been denied the economic power that grants men domestic and social authority, both father figures indulge in their murderous appetites in an attempt to revolt against their powerless positions.
In George Canterbury’s Will, Dawkes embeds himself firmly into a domestic setting, attempting to prove himself as a worthy contender for his Aunt’s fortune. He states “let me get the chance of becoming a married man, and you would see how good a member of society I should make. You might safely leave your fortune to me then, without fear that it would ever be wasted.” (Wood 153) Following this he enchants the rich widow, the widowed Mrs Canterbury, by falsely befriending her and her child. Finally, he entices her into marriage, after which his love for her son fades “into air […]. he was coldly indifferent, sometimes very cross.” (176) Dawkes’ cunning domestic facade gives him the opportunity to attack from within. Failing in his attempt to acquire his Aunt’s fortune and steal his stepson’s income, he unhesitatingly rebels against his domestic position, stating “it is in my nature to spend, and spend I must, let who will suffer.” (204) Similarly, Wynstanley’s household assault in All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life also occurs within the intimate confines of the marital home. Having been entrusted with the care of his stepson after a riding accident, Wynstanley’s position of confidence enables him to re-image himself as the home’s ‘rightful’ leader. In one instance he fantasises that:
a new life and future stood out in distinctness before his mental vision. And what a picture of happy busy life it was, like that which he enjoyed during the few years following his marriage! What a contrast with the blank dismal life lived! And thus he became more and more familiarised with the only view of life which now seemed to be endurable, and ceased to strive against his naturally honourable repugnance to anticipate in thought, even for a moment, the prize which Walter’s death would bring him. (Oliver 268)
This rebellious desire for domestic justice leads both Dawkes and Wynstanley to undertake their wicked, economically driven crimes, both believing their actions will grant them financial security and domestic sovereignty. Instead, their attempted murders have catastrophic consequences, contributing to their domestic vulnerability and significantly damaging their manhood.
Notably, both Dawkes and Wynstanley invert nineteenth century cultural stereotypes by poisoning their victims, a method traditionally associated with Victorian murderesses. Connecting it with the ‘unstable’ female body, Pal-Lapinski states that women resorted “to poison to carry out their transgressive agendas in regard to property, sexuality, and national identity” (37), killing husbands and lovers through a revolt of domestic treason. Poison as a form of domestic weaponry prevailed throughout the scandalous Victorian press, a string of murderesses generating terror that fed through to many popular sensation novels of the period – notable poisoners include Madeleine Smith and Mary Ann Cotton.8 Influenced by cases such as these, Wilkie Collins’ Armadale, The Law and the Lady (1875), Jezebel’s Daughter (1880), and The Legacy of Cain (1888) all connect femininity with poison. Additionally Braddon, as well as other sensation novelists, also depicted their share of female poisoners. Braddon’s Three Times Dead (1860) and Milly Darrel (1873), Emma Robinson’s Madeleine Graham (1864), Berkeley Aikin On Latmos (1881) and Henry Cresswell’s The Wily Widow (1888) all present subversive mothers, wives or lovers poisoning their family members or love interests.9) As Frances Dolan emphasises, throughout history, venomous toxins were partnered “with women’s covert violence, criminality and domestic treachery” (173); sensation novelists embraced the media and tradition,10 aligning female poisoners with subversive womanhood and generating threatening representations of the criminalised, morally corrupt ‘angel of the house’.
Given that poison is primarily mythologised as a feminine, domestic weapon, it is surprising to see many examples of male domestic poisoners in post-1860s sensation fiction. Humphrey Sandwith’s Minsterborough (1876) and Richard Arkwright’s The Queen Anne’s Gate Mystery (1889), amongst others, have detailed plot lines centred on domestic poisonings; these are, however, purely marital and not reminiscent of the themes undertaken by this particular study.11 There is evidence, however, to suggest that Wood and Oliver’s protagonists were influenced by sensational stories surrounding real-life paternal poisoners. British newspapers of the period, both regional and national, feature a number of fathers found guilty of poisoning their offspring. More broadly, Jade Shepherd’s research into Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum revealed that “over 60 paternal child-murderers[…]. were found insane and committed to Broadmoor between 1869 and 1900.” (19) Her work, alongside that of Alexander Bain and Megan Doolittle, further suggests that, from the 1870s, there was a rising scientific interest in the relationship between father and child, the emotional need to “protect” one’s offspring inherently intertwined with “manliness”; men supposedly killed their children because they could not live up to this expectation (4-5).
Although it is clear that paternal infanticide was, to an extent, embedded within public and scientific consciousness, Shepherd’s research solely documents lower-class fathers whereas this study is concerned with the upper-middle classes. Moreover, unlike Shepherd’s findings, Wood and Oliver’s characters kill their stepsons because they themselves are not provided for, putting a fictitious spin on real-life cases. It is because of these differences that I propose that a more symbolic reading of Dawkes and Wynstanley is appropriate, where both stepfathers can be seen to embody contemporary feelings of economic vulnerability and injustice, rather than reflecting real-life murderous mentalities and motives.
After murdering their stepsons, it becomes clear that the economic control Dawkes and Wynstanley so desperately strive for can never be re-established. In George Canterbury’s Will, Dawkes, following the death of his wife, is further crippled when his wife subsequently disinherits him from her estate as an act of economic revenge. The climactic reading of her secret will is highly distressing to him, her bequeathing “to my present husband, Barnaby Dawkes, the sum of five-and-twenty pounds, wherewith to purchase a mourning-ring, which he will wear in remembrance of my dear child, Thomas Canterbury”12 (Wood 262). After this devious retribution, Dawkes is described as resembling “a man who has received his death blow” (263), emphasising the acute trauma disinheritance is capable of inflicting. The novel continues to describe Dawkes as “a ruined man: yesterday he stood on a high pinnacle, vaunting his wealth and position; to-day he was hurled from it, and hurled from it for ever” (Wood 263). By punishing him with the loss of his home, money and social status, the novel suggests that this financial and social punishment represents the masculine counterpart of the fallen woman. Rather than punishing her character with death, Wood instead demotes Dawkes down the gendered ladder, pushing him into a position of economic weakness and effeminacy by reversing traditional autonomous gender roles.
George Canterbury’s Will’s implementation of economic punishment is intensely brutal. Referring back to the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870, the presence of a vengeful will in the novel reflects the developing legal and economic identity of women in Victorian society; significantly the will scenes were serialised after the passing of the Act. Before this legislation, it was impossible for women to make a will without the consent of their husbands. However, the Act states:
“It cannot […]. be now disputed that when a woman is the owner of real estate to her separate use, she is to all intents and purposes in the position of a feme sole so as to be able to dispose of that estate by will or deed. The object of this deed is clearly to place this lady, with reference to all her real property whatsoever and wheresoever acquired, in exactly the same position as if she had no husband at all […]. nobody disputes that […]. she would hold as a feme sole and be able to make a will, the husband being placed out of the way.” (Griffith 4)
By using this contemporary legislation as a plot device, Wood implies the potential economic vulnerability of the husband and reiterates the suspended position of the stepfather. By making his financial punishment so severe, Wood is seen to grant physical freedom to her character, forcing him in return to suffer a climactic social death.
However, whilst Wood punishes Dawkes purely economically, Oliver less subtly embraces imagery of the financially incapacitated father figure. Wynstanley in All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life, is transformed into a dangerous, villainous nurse, adopting and then subverting female gender roles, and then, as a consequence, forced to follow the same decline as the Victorian fallen woman. In his role as a nurse, Wynstanley volunteers to watch over and administer morphia to his seventeen-year-old stepson Walter every night after he seriously injures himself in a riding accident.13 Leaving him in full control of Walter’s medicinal intake, the doctor finally accepts Wynstanley’s “pressing offers of service, while he sought a few hours’ sleep in a separate apartment” (Oliver 264). After suspecting foul play, the doctor returns one night to discover Wynstanley brandishing two morphia-filled syringes. Stunned and outraged he “seized with the rapidity of lightning each of his Lordship’s wrists, and held them firmly grasped, at the same time whispering in his ear ‘One word, and you are lost. I know your secret’” (288).
The figure of the female nurse was deeply problematic in Victorian society and literature. Although her role was generally associated with nurture and obedience (Denny, 67), Kristine Swenson notes that, on the other hand, her medical “capability” and confidentiality made her “frightening and dangerous.” (73) Swenson clarifies that “women were increasingly suspected of secretly administering poison ‘during the normal round of domestic care’ as they cooked or cared for the sick” (62). By deconstructing Wynstanley’s masculinity and re-imagining him as a wicked nurse, Oliver is able to capture and construct a monstrous, threatening villain. Embodying the intimate roles of both stepfather and nurse, Wynstanley disrupts gender boundaries, destroying the sanctity of domesticity and reflecting Victorian anxieties concerning the destabilisation of masculine roles in light of new, gendered economic instability.
After Oliver’s metamorphosis of Wynstanley, his destiny is then dramatically altered. Whereas Dawkes in George Canterbury’s Will is spared his life, the female formula of ‘sin, suffer, die’ is instead imposed on Oliver’s wicked stepfather. In the final pages of the text a member of the townsfolk reveals:
“poor Lord Arthur tew, who iverybody respected […]. He got wrong in his hid somehow; and was werry defficult for his friends, as didn’t knouw for a long time while what ta dew with ‘em. The he got wus and wus, and was forved to be took care on; and at last he died, sir, now more than a year back.” (311)
Wynstanley’s death, following his descent into madness, demonstrates Oliver’s use of gender subversion as a means of masculine persecution, the text influenced by the Victorian artistic tradition to impose suffering and death on the sinning, subversive woman. Although Wynstanley’s intense mental suffering and subsequent death generate a re-imagining of Victorian masculine brutality, the novel equally acknowledges the cult of compassion for the infanticidal mother, with John R. Reed noting that “lawyers, judges, and doctors, felt more sympathy than suspicion for mothers whose children died” (169). Oliver significantly enables Wynstanley’s full redemption by name and reputation, the father figure reinstated back into his original paternal position. After catching Wynstanley with the double dosage, the doctor declares ‘“drop both syringes on the floor, and you are safe with me.”’ (Oliver 288) He continues “you must let me recommend you with authority to leave this place for a month at least” (292). Regardless of Walter’s attempted murder, Wynstanley is merely given a medical remedy, the claims of homosociality protecting and allowing him to retain his social mobility. The sympathy extended by the doctor to Wynstanley suggests the possibility that his death is instead an offering of compassion. Rather than condemning his character to a lifetime in a domestic prison, Oliver may have considered his death as a mercy killing, granting him domestic ‘release’ rather than forcing him to return to his suspended, paternal purgatory.
Rather than symbolising either condemnation or release, Oliver presents Wynstanley’s fate as a conflation of both sympathy and punishment. Notably George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859) also conveys this conflicted message, with the fallen Hetty sentenced to hang but instead transported for the murder of her infant. Although her sentence is reduced, Hetty’s later death symbolises the social necessity for her to suffer and repent. Like Hetty, Oliver’s character Wynstanley is partially spared and shown a certain degree of sympathy after his crime; yet, just as Hetty’s death is necessary for the restoration of social justice, Wynstanley, according to Oliver, must similarly die in a cathartic bid to rid society of this dysfunctional masculine threat.
Both texts present the 1870s and early 1880s as a period of masculine instability, and both stepfathers reflect contemporary fears that Victorian ideological values of domestic patriarchy were being weakened by economic equality. Although the novels conjure strong imagery of male powerlessness, they equally show two contrasting methods of retribution. Despite the stepfathers enforcing their own voluntary exile, their biological position as men allowing them freedom and social mobility, their punishments are presented somewhat differently, Dawkes enduring the masculine penalty of economic failure, and Wynstanley forced to follow the traditional nineteenth-century steps of fallen womanhood.
Importantly, within these novels, there is no legal recognition or intervention as a consequence of paternal child-murder. Both novelists indicate that, despite their wrongdoings and the ensuing outcomes, the stepfathers deserve a certain degree of sympathy and compassion. In All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life, despite catching Wynstanley in the act of murder, the doctor is understanding and comforting. He declares “My Lord, we all feel that you are completely exhausted, physically and mentally” (Oliver 292), and, whilst questioning him about the incident exclaims:
“Pardon me, Lord Arthur, for not having already assured you that I will not ask anything which is not absolutely necessary. I cannot doubt that you are aware that my present action is but the discharge of duty, to me of the most painful kind, tempered to the utmost of my power by the kindest consideration of yourself.” (294)
As well as this compassionate and arguably gentlemanly reaction, Oliver’s narrator also endeavours to explain Wynstanley’s motives. In an effort to evoke pathos, he writes that the stepfather’s actions were “affectionate”. Despite having ulterior motives, Wynstanley still yearned to “smooth” Walter’s “pillow by unremitting and sympathetic personal services” (298). In a surprising fashion, the novel attempts to contort Wynstanley’s villainy into a selfless act of mercy. Unusually, rather than condemn Wynstanley as a cold-blooded villain, Oliver arguably urges the reader to reconsider the motives of Wynstanley’s actions, asking us to re-evaluate the desperate man behind the crime. In the manner of Victorian literature such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth (1853) and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), whose authors sought to present the fallen women in a sympathetic light, Oliver seeks to partially redeem the ‘fallen man’. Although his murderous nature must unquestionably be stopped, the reader is asked to view his reactionary behaviour with a certain degree of understanding.
Although in George Canterbury’s Will, Dawkes’ infanticidal act is abhorred by his wife Caroline and her close friend Thomas Kage, the latter’s empathy for his fellow man modifies his hatred. ‘‘‘O but it was an awful temptation!’ he exclaimed aloud: not to her, but in self-communing. ‘Awful, awful to such a one as Dawkes, Poor man! […]. not his guilty weakness in yielding to it; not his wicked sin; but I pity him his exposure to the temptation.’” (Wood 238). Similarly, despite his long-suffering wife’s dramatic disinheritance it is noted that:
Major Dawkes had given up early possession, betaking himself off one morning quietly […]. across the Channel with his sister, on a very fair and sufficient income. Were men generally rewarded here in accordance with their deserts, Major Dawkes might perhaps have confessed to himself that, after all, he was more lucky than he deserved to be. (267)
Despite his economic, social and moral downfall, Dawkes is granted his physical mobility. In Shepherd’s historical study of paternal infanticide, this sense of fatherly sympathy appears to prevail throughout the Victorian period. Her statistics, concerning the number of murderous fathers in asylums, reveal that “they were sent to Broadmoor rather than the gallows”, indicating that “a certain degree of sympathy was extended to them” (6). Moreover, her research shows that there were certain linguistic trends that newspapers adopted in discussing paternal infanticide: it was considered a “sad tragedy” by the press, and headlines such as “A Father’s Terrible Crime” and “A Father’s Awful Crime” reinforced this representation (17). Shepherd’s research then, allows for a more gentle, forgiving approach, and her exposé of contemporary sympathetic offerings emphasises that murderous fathers were, on the whole, able to achieve their masculine domestic flight.
To conclude, George Canterbury’s Will and All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life represent paternal domestic flight as a form of masculine weakness, with Wood and Oliver using child murder as a means of exploring and demonstrating the increasing threat to masculine autonomy in the 1870s and early 1880s. Although not directly based on the gendered legal changes of the period, these texts ultimately reflect the masculine feeling of late-Victorian manhood, the intense fear of financial vulnerability echoing throughout both narratives. Each text’s reworking of gendered autonomy provides a critical insight into the traumatic pressures of domestic patriarchy; both stepfathers embody Victorian men’s desperation to create and maintain power as the household’s financial manager. Overall, these novels provide a crucial understanding of increasing masculine estrangement within the Victorian home, the narratives using stereotypical representations of the evil stepfather to address the period’s volatile and potentially unsettling alterations to masculine, domestic sovereignty.
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- Pseudonym of Sir Henry Thompson, a notable member of the Royal College of Surgeons. [↩]
- Maggie Symington’s Bessie Gordon’s Story and Samuel Tinsley’s Married for Money completes this quartet. Symington’s novel aligns itself with the temperance movement, a father murdering his son with alcohol symbolising the fear of club culture and its effect on the domestic sphere. Tinsley’s novel highlights anxieties of the increasing demand for imperial, physical models of masculinity. His protagonist brutally murders his son through fear that he has inherited his own ‘hereditary insanity’ [↩]
- See John Tosh (2008) A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England. (Yale: Yale Uni-versity Press). [↩]
- The suspended legal position of married women was termed ‘coverture’. Sally Mitchell notes that before the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, ‘under the common law, when a woman married her legal status was absorbed in that of her husband (478). [↩]
- In Charlotte’s Inheritance, Philip Sheldon attempts to kill his stepdaughter, Charlotte Halliday, after insuring her life for a substantial amount of money. In Birds of Prey, he has previously poisoned her father, Tom Halliday. [↩]
- The term ‘laboured’ also adds economic dimensions to this passage. With this word, Oliver uses the language of working-class toil to emphasise the economic threat to Wynstanley’s class position. [↩]
- This is also reflected in novels containing bank crashes and gambling speculation; authors such as Trollope, Dickens and Margaret Oliphant present men losing their homes and identities as they flee to escape their creditors. See Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875) and Oliphant’s Hester (1883). [↩]
- See Mary Hartman’s (1998) Victorian Murderesses (London: Robson) for informative profiles of ‘sensational’ prolific murderesses. [↩]
- Other notable works include: Mrs Houstoun’s Taken Upon Trust (1863), Daniel-Mackenzie’s After Long Years (1863), Alice Fisher’s His Queen (1871) and May Crommelin’s Dead Men’s Dollars (1883 [↩]
- Dolan links poison to the traditional practice of witchcraft. [↩]
- Late-Victorian sensation novel plots that focus on husbands killing their wives include: Frank Barret’s Found Guilty (1886), John Douglas’ Measure for Measure (1886), Eliza Pollard’s Vengeance is Mine (1886) and Frank Danby’s Doctor Phillips. A Maida Vale Idyll (1887). [↩]
- As by the end of the novel Dawkes’ wife has realised that Dawkes has killed her child, this is meant to be a beyond-the-grave revenge attack. [↩]
- Coming of age occurred when a child turned 21. Although older than the other children within this study, Walter is still legally categorised as a minor within Victorian society. [↩]
Paternal Trauma: Economic Emasculation and Sensationalised Stepfathers in Ellen Wood’s George Canterbury’s Will and Pen Oliver’s All But: A Chronicle of Laxenford Life
by Emma Butcher
The Wilkie Collins Journal 13 (2016)