Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Victoria

You'd think we were distanced enough in time from Queen Victoria for her to have lost her symbolic purchase on our imaginations. John Fowles starts The Magus by noting how he grew up in the shadow of his repressive parents, and they grew up in the shadow of 'that monstrous dwarf, Queen Victoria'; but, in a 1965 novel, that just about works. By the 90s, Jesus Jones (remember them) could coo with worry at incipient neoPuritanism with the song 'Welcome Back, Victoria' (on Doubt, 1991) but hindsight makes their anxiety look foolish. As an ethical and sexual signifier Victoria now, surely, looks more 18th-century than 21st. But here's the start of a 2001 poem by Jon Weir called 'The Night Sweats':
Sweating during the night the rising early,
my mind still grappling with sinuous images
of Queen Victoria coming in from the garden
and telling me that during her ride that day
she would visit General Windham's widow
-- for the life of me I couldn't imnagine why
I closed the door behind her grumpily.
That plain Queen, dumpy, housewifely,
black, stands for a tumor deep inside us,
a festering root that eternally mourns
some glamorous love irretrievably lost,
even though, if we take a backward look
through the distorting lens of self-pity,
we're forced to confess that it never existed
in the form our furtive minds gave to it.
The last few lines perhaps situate the poem suitably far-back in time, but nevertheless, this seems odd. Are people still haunted by Queen Victoria, of all figures?

1 comment:

Rich said...

I think that if you have enough poets writing poems about being haunted in dream by someone, one is sure to pick Queen Victoria. I mean, if you sorted out a pile of poems specifically on dream hauntings, I'd expect to get poet's first love, poet's mom, poet's abusive dad, poet's dog, dinosaur, poet's first love again, Freud, poet's childhood toy, Queen Victoria. Or something like that.