A dissertation by Televassi.
Televassi is a bit of a newcomer to the fandom, however in his time here he’s been amazed by the friendly and creative nature of the people that make it up. Apart from being a writer, he also enjoys rock climbing and scuba diving, and has a keen interest in Celtic and Germanic cultures. You can find this torc wearing wolf on twitter as @Televassi, and find more of his writing and art on FA and Weasyl. He’s always happy to meet new people, so don’t be afraid to say hi!
Werewolves are prevalent, recurring figures in literature. Their “sheer pervasiveness… speaks of their continued popularity and psychological importance” (Stypczynski 186). The werewolf’s history of literary appearances is long, for “werewolves are insinuated into European literary history from their earliest appearances in the Near Eastern Epic of Gilgamesh, Petronius’ Satyricon, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses” (15), continuing “through the Middle Ages, in the works of Gerald of Wales and Marie de France… to subtly inhabit the early modern period” (15), before appearing in fiction written during the nineteenth century and onwards into the present day.
Despite this, academic analysis of the werewolf has been scarce. Most publications reprint folkloric or theological texts rather than new critical analysis. Brent Stypczynski summarises the critical field in five points; the shape-shifter as theological impossibility or monster; the medieval ‘sympathetic werewolf’ phenomenon; political postcolonial allegory; shape-shifting as insanity; or the werewolf as social allegory (6). All these approaches attempt to read the werewolf as emblematic primarily of one theme, narrowing their possible meanings in favour of one conclusive definition. This is a mistake, as Judith Halberstam argues in her book, Skin Shows, that “the success… of any given monstrous embodiment depends upon its ability to be multidimensional in terms of horror it produces” (110). This dissertation aims to explore new avenues as to what the werewolf can be, so that the nineteenth century texts are not read only as well-documented expressions of “fears of working class unrest, social change, Darwinism, imperialism, women’s liberation, and sexual freedom” (Easley & Scott xv). Recent criticism by authors such as Chantal Bourgault Du Coudray and Brent Stypczynski has built on such approaches by beginning to interpret the werewolf as a positive, if not desirable creature, and therefore signalling that new criticism should investigate this trend. This dissertation will analyse Hugues, The Wer-Wolf (1838) by Sutherland Menzies; Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf (1846-7) by George W.M. Reynolds; and The Were-wolf of Grendelwold (1882) by F. Scarlett Potter, and argue that each werewolf uses his lycanthropy to resist and transgress against rigid spatial orderings imposed upon the landscape and human society. Thus, this dissertation will expand upon previous critical interpretations, situating itself among modern criticism beginning to view the werewolf as a positive, even desirable figure. However, this does not depart from the traditional definition of the werewolf; it rather argues that its desirability still lies in its traditional definition.
A werewolf is a man or woman who, either voluntarily or involuntarily, is supernaturally transformed into the shape of a wolf and endowed with all the physical characteristics of that animal. (Frost 6)
Frost’s definition appears straightforward, however the notion of the werewolf, in its most extreme, as “one of the most terrible and depraved of all bond-slaves of Satan” (Summers 123), is complicated by its voluntary nature, indicating it can desirable. Frost’s later qualification that the werewolf exhibits animal traits, such as “cunning craftiness, swiftness of movement, bestial ferocity and unbridled cruelty” (6) allows one to hypothesise that such traits superior to the human body are what is desired. Frost does not however explore this possibility, as his assertion of cruelty colours the cunning, swiftness and ferocity as equally condemnable because they allow the werewolf “to gratify the taste for human flesh” (Baring-Gould 5). By suspending an anthropocentric, moral dynamic that sees such traits as negative because they harm human beings, it is possible to reveal how the werewolf’s animal qualities are tools that allow resistance and transgression of social-spatial locations.
Pursuing such a reading is possible because criticism in the twenty-first century has begun to gesture towards positive interpretations of the werewolf. Chantal Bourgault Du Coudray notes that the werewolf embodies “the possibilities of integrating the antagonistic aspects of the werewolf’s identity” (141), to the point that in modern fantasy fiction the werewolf “survives, develops ethical frameworks and achieves spiritual fulfilment” (149). Brent Stypczynski supports such a positive view, finding that “the modern werewolf begins to discuss issues as diverse as conservation, time travel, hidden societies, adaption of one’s skills, and teaching history” (182). Neither is this positive modern interpretation a reinterpretation, for Leslie Sconduto’s analysis of werewolf literature from the twelfth century indicates it is rather a rediscovery, as “all texts portray the creature [werewolf] as a victim and a hero” (3). However, these analyses neglect interpretation of the supernatural werewolf’s body, which this dissertation proposes is a means to freedom. In order to pursue such a reading of the werewolf’s access to a positive animal body, this dissertation combines literary criticism with the field of animal studies.
Criticism in animal studies is generally concerned with decentring the anthropocentric conception of animals in culture. This applies to the rationale of discovering superior, positive traits in the werewolf’s animal body, as human classifications of animal inferiority must be removed in order to do so. Otherwise, the werewolf’s physical traits such as strength, speed and ferocity continue to be seen as negative because they harm human interests – the exact reason that attests to their ability to transgress and resist spatial orders. Our view of animals displays “our own investment in the idea of an authentic nature, a natural order of things, for which the animal is the ideal icon” (Baker 180). Randy Malamud agrees with this view, as “we are interested in animals, by and large, in terms of what they can do for us… so their own freedom and integrity are diametrically opposed to our ability to do with them what we will” (18). The issue that emerges is the notion that animals are defined in our culture by “the ‘place’ which a particular animal, a given species of animal or even non-human animals in general can be said to possess human classifications or orderings of the world” (Philo &Wilbert 5). In order to revise a utilitarian, anthropocentric approach to animals, Malamud’s call for “a natural history of animals; animals as we’re not seeing them” (18) is an intriguing proposal, though it is apt to question whether literary animals can ever be seen outside of a cultural gaze, including the supernatural werewolf. Regardless, animals are judged in terms of their place in the natural order with relation to what they can do for us, or how they harm our own efforts to order the world, which explains why the fictional werewolf’s physical traits are overlooked as sources of freedom because they are tools that harm human interests by resisting spatial order. Thus, the werewolf resists the concept that:
Each identified thing has its own ‘proper place’ relative to all other things, and can be neatly identified, delimited and positions relevant to a conceptual space so as to be separate from, and not overlapping with, other things (Philo & Wilbert 6).
Understanding that such spatially determined notions are only “human classifications or orderings of the world” (5) is crucial to understanding the werewolf body as a positive figure. It is reasonable to suggest that humans also spatially construct places that apply to human beings as well, not just animals, and therefore culture can become repressive or oppressive. Regardless of the anthropocentric perception that “the animal can not think in other than the most rudimentary ways… has no sense of time or space…unable to plan future actions apart from the boundaries imposed by the immediate situation” (Sanders & Arluke 379), animals nonetheless “destabilise, transgress or even resist our human orderings, including spatial ones” (Philo & Wilbert 5). The werewolf can transgress too, as his animal shape bestows animal traits that allow the individual to resist his spatially assigned place in society in ways a human cannot, by embracing the threatening potential of the wolf’s pelt, howl, claws, teeth, and speed.
Chapter 1: The Wolf’s Shape as Escape in Sutherland Menzies’ Hugues, the Wer-Wolf
First published in 1838 in the Court and Ladies Magazine, a publication for women focused on light reading, fashion, and society (Easley & Scott 1), Hugues, the Wer-Wolf has appeared fleetingly in critical discourse. Whilst “Menzies could claim to be the poor man’s Walter Scott in his use of dialect and rural locations… the lycanthropic goings-on are described in such a limp manner… and despite its interest remains a only a marginal essay in the genre” (Copper 116). As a text about werewolves, its flaw is that the central character is not a real werewolf. Instead the ‘metamorphosis’ is achieved by the discovery of a werewolf costume that the protagonist uses to perform his werewolfery. The idea of using clothing to become a werewolf does not undermine the narrative’s werewolf status, as the belief that one could become a werewolf by either wearing a magical wolf-skin or by wearing a girdle of wolf fur are common themes in folklore. Instead, Hugues’ costumed performance demonstrates a desire to be the animal. This is because the physical appearance of the wolf, along with the semblance of claws, teeth and other non-threatening attributes such as the ability to eat carrion, are embraced because the threat the wolf offers allows him to escape the oppressive conditions of his previously ‘pure’ human existence. It is reasonable to read Hugues’ animal performance as liberating, because modern instances of wild animals entering human, urban spaces, reminds “people of the permeable boundaries between themselves and animals, between nature and culture, and even between national and international spaces” (Sanders 251). Hugues’ adoption of the wolf shape serves to clothe him with the transgressive freedom of movement a ‘wild’ nonhuman animal attains.
Before Hugues dons his werewolf apparel, it is important to understand the geographical structure of the narrative, as it is the oppression by these spatial boundaries that causes him to rebel. The landscape of Hugues is divided between nature and culture, particularly stressing the control of the forest which Hugues lives in. Menzies’ descriptive choices imply a language of control and limitation, for the woods are described in such fortified terms as “impervious covert” (Hugues 2) and “sylvan fastnesses” (3), the latter noted in a footnote as meaning stronghold, which therefore characterise the forest as a fixed, policed space. Existing on the “confines of that extensive forest-tract” (2), the Hugues family is restricted within the forest, signalling their spatially determined otherness as the text indicates no neutral ground between nature and society. Thus the narrative’s creation of a landscape where everything “has its own ‘proper place’ relative to all other things, and can be neatly identified, delimited and positioned relevant to a conceptual space” (Philo & Wilbert 5) is a construction with profound consequences for those within it.
“The class into which we place a species determines the treatment an individual animal will receive” (Lerner & Kalof 580) also affects humans, for the class the Hugues family are placed into has negative consequences for their welfare. The Hugues’ existence in the forest is no naturalistic idyll, for they are “wretched outcasts” (Hugues 3) preventing any possibility to interpret their existence as one that is wilful, thus, the spatial order they are defined by is oppressive of individual liberty and harmful to their wellbeing. The boundary that forces them to live an “a lone and miserable habitation” (3) is one that is socially constructed, as Menzies somewhat ironically writes that the former quote is possible because they are “under the protection of the ancient forest laws” (3), thus securing the notion that their spatial status is cultural. Social convention prevents their exit, not an impassable landscape, for they are ostracised for fear that they belong “to the accursed race of werewolves” (3). Thus the Hugues’ exile implies that “the werewolf… created through essential boundary transgressions: between the human and the animal, the civilised and the bestial, the domesticated and the wild” (Marvin 48) can be contained by placing it in wilderness areas, as these areas have no interest to man. Though this does not separate the werewolf’s issue of the wolf in the man, it places the hybrid in wilderness that is of no interest to humans, therefore making it obey the spatial order. Due to this designation, the family is “refused work” (Hugues 3) and does not have “a single friend among the adjacent homesteads” (3), therefore maintaining their outcast status by forcing them to live “a secluded and precarious existence” (3). This prevents them from moving across the border that divides human society from the forest, and the Hugues family contained therein. The implication is that Hugues’ inability to resist his spatial definition lies in his humanity, as any human plea “met brutal denials at all hands… accompanied by taunts and menace… dogs were let loose upon him to rend his limbs” (9).
It therefore appears counter-intuitive that Hugues embraces, and actualises the claims of werewolfism against him in order to resist his spatial isolation, as it was the very thing that caused his family’s exile. However unlike his human self, animals can “destabilise, transgress or even resist our human orderings, including spatial ones” (Philo & Wilbert 5), so when Hughes gives his impassioned desire to become a wolf, he signals that the animal shape can become desirable because it offers a means of resistance when all human modes of complaint are denied.
‘Oh, would I might be a werewolf… I could then requite them for all the foul wrong done to me… I would be able to terrify and torment those… who have persecuted out family even to extermination… I should at least find carrion to devour, and not die thus horribly’ (Hugues 11).
Hugues identifies that the physical body of the wolf with the ability to revenge himself and his dead parents and sister, for the image of the wolf provokes terror in those who behold it. Exceeding revenge, Hugues draws upon the wolf’s natural eating habits in order to allow himself to sustain himself, signalling that the animal becomes something that improves his life. Moreover, Menzies signals the wolf is able to transgress spatial boundaries, as “wolves had… emerged from their forest lairs, and, entering the cemetery by a breach in its walls, goaded by famine, had actually disinterred the dead” (4) demonstrating how animals can permeate the boundaries constructed by human beings.
When Hugues dons the costume, “he felt his very teeth on edge with an avidity for biting; he experienced an inconceivable desire to run: he set himself to howl as though he has practised wer-wolfery all his life, and became to thoroughly invest himself with the guise and attributes of his novel vocation” (13). These actions signal an attempt to emotionally connect through performance with two aspects that can be found threatening about the wolf; the howl which holds “a long held fear that it might signal attack on them [humans] or their livestock” (Marvin 24), and the jaw “that has a crushing power of 1,500 lb/in (double that of the largest domestic dog” (18). Armed and clothed as a wolf, Hugues is able to trespass against the boundaries that have oppressed him because his performance of the wolf enables him to create the illusion of possessing such abilities. Though it is an act; “performing an animal identity provides a way out of human norms that have become unduly restrictive” (Carlson 195), because Hugues’ performance of the wolf evokes fear that prevents people from exposing his illusion. Thus, Hugues is able to move by “howling in a frightful manner, and traversing meadows, fallows, plains, and marshes, like a shadow” (Hugues 13). However, Hugues’ performance does not only allow him to move across the boundaries he could not cross as a human, but also disrupt them by constructing his own rival spatial order.
As he roams Hugues encounters Willieblud, the Ashford flesher driving a cart full of meat for the market. Starving, Hugues’ wolfish guise allows him to steal food, as the flesher’s fear of the werewolf makes him passive, allowing Hugues to take control of the situation; “he howled in a plaintive tone, and, rushing forward, seized the horse by the bit” (13-14). Seizing the horse controls the freedom of the flesher to move across the land, allowing the previously oppressed Hugues to reverse the spatial order, all done under the guise of the wolf, as his human hands are hidden underneath “gloves in the form of paws” (12). Moreover, now that Hugues has literally taken the reigns of the situation, he uses his wolfish guise to voice the complaints he was unable to make as a human; “‘I hunger; throw me two pounds of meat if thou would’st have me live’” (14). Despite being disguised in a costume that lacks any real wolfish aspect, the fear of the werewolf transforms it into something more threatening than “a dyed sheepskin… a mask with an elongated muzzle, and furnished with formidable rows of yellow horse-teeth” (12). Hugues’ transgression expresses a deeper fear than that of the wolf alone. As “clothing is something which can also be seen to differentiate humans from other, nonhuman animals” (Hurn 110), the act of wearing the skin of the wolf is not just an example of how “clothes also represent powerful means for subversion…expressions of resistance” (110). It indicates that the narrative’s two undesirables, the wolf and the outcast, have joined together in the wilderness they were exiled in, and return to plague society anew, attacking the purebred human’s once secure spatial order of the world in a way he is powerless to resist. Hugues is the herald of this, as his human speech conveys the demand enabled by the hybrid whole, that of meat to eat, secured by the wolfish threat of violence upon the weak human body.
‘I would rather have raw meat than eat of thy flesh, plump as thou art. Throw me… what I crave, and… be ready with the like portion each time thou settest out for Canterbury market; or, failing thereof, I tear thee limb from limb.’ (Hugues 14)
Hugues, the werewolf, has now clearly changed the spatial order he once suffered under, to the point where his predations become a regular occurrence, regulating the spatial freedoms of the flesher, who would once have been the social superior preventing Hugues from doing so. Mirroring the wolf’s natural behaviour to construct a territory “for their own subsistence” (Marvin 23), the werewolf has similarly set up his own territory, a rival spatial order that man is now forced to submit to. It also grants him greater access into social circles, as he can for example claim the hand of a woman in marriage. Dressed as a werewolf, he is able to demand that “‘tis thy niece I would have speech with, in all courtesy and honour… which if thou not permittest… I will rend thee both do death” (Hugues 17). The werewolf combines human speech with the threatening physicality of the wolf in order to gain physical access to women, thereby opening up the prospect of marrying into society and inserting himself deeper into social spheres. This is evidenced by the fact that once granted, “the wolf had done her no injury whatsoever… acting with in every respect like a loyal suitor, rather than a sanguinary wer-wolf” (18). By forcefully initiating his courtship under the threatening guise of the wolf, Willieblud is powerless to stop the werewolf forcing himself into the pool of eligible bachelors and thereby court his daughter, for Willieblud is counselled that “slay a wer-wolf thou canst not… for his hide is proof against spear or arrow, though vulnerable to the cutting” (18).
After a brief episode whereby Willieblud cuts off the werewolf’s paw, mirroring medieval methods of exposing a werewolf, his plan is thwarted, as his daughter now loves Hugues. Stating that “If Willieblud should raise his cleaver to slay thee [Hugues], he shall first strike though his kinswoman’s body” (20), Branda indicates that Hugues’ courtship, instigated by his werewolfism, has secured a place in her heart, and by her legitimacy in society, a place for him in society to. As a consequence of cutting off Hugues’ hand, Willieblud is driven mad by the severed hand and dies, allowing Hugues to marry “Branda, sole heiress to the stock and chattels of the late unhappy flesher of Ashford” (22). Thus the suspected werewolf, once ostracised and contained in the wilderness, has now ultimately used his wolfish aspect to move out from his exile and secure his position in society, and confirm the place of his lineage through his acquisition of a wife – all of which, he gained access too by his performance of werewolfery.
Chapter 2 – The Wolves Reinvigorate the Human Body: Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf and The Wolf’s Body.
G.W.M. Reynold’s 1846-7 serial, Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf, stands as one of the better known pieces of werewolf fiction from the nineteenth century, however, it does bear some flaws. David Copper criticises its “repetition and wearisome use of adjective and hyperbole” (118), yet such stylistic defects may arise from the fact that “Reynold’s fiction primarily targeted a lower- and middle –class readership” (Easley & Scott 65). On the subject of werewolves, despite boasting of them in the title, Wagner’s lycanthropic excursions are scarce in a work of seventy-seven chapters, yet this should not discourage analysis as what remains has been well received by other critics. Wagner is “a fine example” (Marvin 59) of how writers of werewolf fiction in the nineteenth century grew in desire to detail “the graphic metamorphoses of the human” (59), a trend that found “part of the thrill or horror of the weird and the grotesque” (59). Reynolds’s fiction conforms to this trend, as his werewolf serial is fascinated by breaking down the boundaries between the human and lupine body, and then detailing the sensational actions that arise. Wagner introduces the werewolf’s “cycle of monthly metamorphosis… as early as 1847”( Du Coudray 78), though now a concept integral to the werewolf myth, was then “very underdeveloped prior to the 1940’s” (78). This monthly shape-shifting is notable more so, because “Reynold’s depiction of the werewolf in its human form as a white, bourgeois male suggested that lycanthropy could not always be safely confined to an externalised Other… it implied that the affliction might also emanate from within” (53). This chapter shall analyse how Wagner expands the potential ability of werewolves to contest spatial borders by violating the most important border of all – the very body of the human being. Unlike Sutherland Menzies’ Hugues, Reynold’s Wagner does not keep human and wolf separate in his depiction of the werewolf; there is no costume. Instead, the wolf penetrates the human body and resides inside it, creating a hybrid body that trespass against spatial boundaries by dissolving the border between the human and the wolf. This hybridity revitalises the human body, and grants Wagner access to a lupine body which Reynold’s constructs as an essential means for spatial transgression. Using it, Wagner rampages across the countryside and even escapes from prison; the building that should stand as the impervious material emblem of human spatial discipline, for locking up the transgressive individual should prevent that individual from doing so.
In order to imbue the werewolf with the wolf’s transgressive potential, Reynold’s begins the narrative by constructing the wolf’s body as the locus of transgression. Wagner begins the narrative as a feeble figure, an “old man sat in his little cottage on the verge of the Black Forest” (Wagner 5). His status as an old man who “numbered ninety years… was toothless… and his limbs were feeble” (5) undermines the notion that this human body has the potential to resist, especially when he is threatened by the predatory wolf, which he fears has already made his daughter Agnes the “prey of ravenous wolves” (5). Due to the wolf’s strength and man’s weakness, Wagner’s rural space is under threat of collapsing into a wild space by the presence of the wolves, which, constructs them as transgressive symbols that can make an impact on the human being’s organisation of the land. Though it is contested whether “animals do not have the capacity to transgress the imagined and materially constructed spatial orderings of human societies” (Philo & Wilbert 14-15), characterising the wolf as one that predates on humans counters this claim. Though “‘resistance’ is generally taken to entail the presence of conscious intentionality… a property of human agency” (15), the wolf can be seen to resist and transgress boundaries, without getting drawn into the issue of whether animals have agency or not, because its predation, regardless of whether it is conscious or not, is a disruption that fundamentally damages the supremacy of human spatial orders. Thus, when Wagner’s guest notes of his future fate that “the wolves from the forest would have entered [the cottage] and mangled your corpse” (Wagner 6), the wolf is clearly transgressive. The walls of Wagner’s home do not prevent entrance because of the weakness of his “helpless, wretched, deserted condition” (6), therefore implying that if the material boundaries are ramparts that entrench human spatial orders; they are defunct as they are unmanned. Therefore the wolf is able to penetrate the borders of human spaces because their strength is illusionary. Thus, Wagner lives in a space where the boundaries separating human and wolf are fluid, the precursor to the collapse of the very boundaries of the body, which then creates werewolves.
With the Black Forest firmly established as a problematic backwater where rural man’s proximity to wild creatures threatens his existence, the devil’s offer to make Wagner young again at the cost of becoming a werewolf appears to merely actualise fears of contamination arising from such a close proximity; thus werewolf is born of spatial transgression initiated by the wolf. Montague Summers writes that when werewolves “transform himself into the shape of some ravening beast of prey… this animal will be the most commonly met with in the district where the varlet inhabits” (22), clearly associating the nature of the shape shifter by the location. Taken in the context of Wagner, it is no surprise that Wagner becomes a wolf – as there is no other candidate that could take its place, or provide a body that allows him to be transgressive. The werewolf myth has been thought to have arisen from the conflict between humans struggling to maintain rural and urban domiciles from the intrusions of wolves from external, wild spaces. Baring-Gould writes of early reports of lycanthropy in Arcadia that “the natives… would consequently suffer very severely from the attacks and depredations of wolves” (8). Modern critics also suggest that werewolves arose from “exaggerated accounts of nocturnal attacks on Stone Age settlements by bands of fur-clad warriors masquerading as wolves” (Frost 4), or from prehistoric man’s attempts to “to look and feel like the wolf by wearing its pelt or its teeth” (Beresford 20). Regardless, it is this permeable boundary between humans and wolves that provides the opportunity for Wagner to become a werewolf, and embrace the wolf’s transgression for himself.
The devil’s promise to Wagner that “I will render thee young, handsome” (Wagner 6) at the cost of “the condition which must be imposed upon thee” (6) in other words “the destiny of the Wehr-Wolf” (6), indicates that the cost of renewed vitality, in which Wagner “must change his natural form for that of the savage animal” (6), comes from becoming a werewolf. The offer to become a werewolf demonstrates that allowing the wolf to penetrate the boundaries of the human body will allow Wagner to regain “the vigour of youth… rendering that stooping frame upright and strong… of endowing thee, in a word, with a fresh tenure of existence” (6). Thus, the werewolf in its very genesis demonstrates that one may seek to become a werewolf because by allowing the animal inside the human body, the subsequent union allows the newly made werewolf access to the wolf body, which generally, but in Wagner’s case explicitly, is the locus of transgressive potential. In acquiring access to the wolf’s body, Reynolds also demonstrates that the act of becoming a werewolf is a transgression against the boundaries of the human body itself.
The werewolf is transgressive because it breaks down the bodily boundaries between animal and human, which all other spatial borders have attempted to do so. Wagner’s revitalisation echoes the success of Edward Jenner’s earlier success of using cowpox as an effective means of smallpox vaccination, which, “by 1833 a discovery made in a rural backwater of provincial England had been spread across the globe” (Fulfort, Lee & Kitson 198), as it “penetrated the human body with matter derived from the bodies of beasts and, in so doing, it made people sick to make them well” (203). Whether by science or supernatural means, the potential werewolf has its body similarly penetrated, allowing the animal access into a place it previously could never reach, making him healthy and young, but leaving his “health dependent on the mark of the beast” (202). The transgression of the wolf into the human body, although by supernatural means, and its consequent vitality through hybridity reveals how the werewolf is symptomatic of how “the categorical boundary between human and animals, so fiercely defended as a tenant of modernity, has been seriously challenged, if not dismantled in places” (Franklin 3). With the wolf firmly established as the vitalising element of the werewolf and the physical body that is naturally transgressive, analysis shall now turn to investigating Wagner’s actions with the wolf shape that his body has now embraced.
Wagner’s transformation in chapter XII demonstrates how the traits of the physical, lupine body allow the werewolf to contest spatial boundaries more effectively than the stock animal. “No longer a man, but a monstrous wolf” (Wagner 23), the werewolf assumes the physical lupine body that possesses great speed, so that “tree – hedge – and isolated cottage appear but dim points in the landscape – a moment seen, the next left behind” (23). The wolfish abilities of speed and endurance are the essential source of transgression, as in the shape of a wolf, the werewolf at the very least has the ability of the natural animal to “lope along at about 8-9km/h for many hours with few pauses” (Marvin 16) and with a “top speed of 60 km/h in a short burst and about 39 km/h for a kilometre” (16). Able to move faster than a human, the werewolf subsequently free to invade, evade, and disrupt landed human interests across distances that cannot be matched by other human beings. Therefore, when “a cemetery stands in the monster’s way… he turns not aside” (Wagner 23) because his speed allows him to race “through the sacred enclosure, on – on he goes” (23) because none are fast enough to stop him. Wagner’s transgression (see fig.2) does not just cause terror, but even death, as “the monk who walked nearest the head of the coffin was thrown down… and his brains were dashed out” (23). Therefore the suggestion is that the werewolf indeed has power over others, especially those, like monks, who rely on the illusion of power in immaterial, religious borders such as sacred ground to secure their own existence.
The werewolf’s speed, derived from its lupine body is the key that bestows it mastery of the landscape. Its ability to range faster than a human means that the werewolf is free to trespass because it is always ahead of the human beings required to police the imaginary and material boundaries they have constructed. Thus, for the werewolf Wagner, to whom “the very hills appear to leap after each other” (23), if the purpose of a border is to prevent and regulate the movement of bodies into certain areas, the speed of the wolf prevents him being caught and made to conform to such regulations. If the violation of these boundaries cannot be prevented, it then is essential to the order’s integrity that the transgressors are caught and eliminated. Even when hounds are later set upon Wagner, despite being able to “overtake him” (23) and “fall upon him” (23), the supernatural creature has the strength to “toss them aside” (23) because “that Wehr-Wolf bears a charmed life” (23). Though the dogs appear as a fitting body able to apprehend the ranging wolf, for dogs are derived from domesticated wolves, used often to guard human interests, their inability to match the wolf despite bearing similar traits suggests that the werewolf is successful in its actions because it is difficult to apprehend.
Though Wagner is imprisoned during the course of the narrative, this occurs whilst he is a human, and therefore does not undermine the werewolf’s ability to escape punishment for its transgression. As a suspected werewolf, Wagner’s trial is one that draws the populace as it is a public demonstration of disciplinary power. As such, “the great square of the ducal palace… was crowded… and the windows were literally alive with human faces” (67), drawing the notion that the previously transgressive werewolf will be destroyed, and so executing the problematic body. However, the rashness of the Chief Judge’s desire to publically exorcise “a monstrous and ridiculous superstition – imported into our country from that cradle and nurse of preposterous legends, Germany” (67), allows the transformed Wagner to escape the jail, as the performance of justice removes the offender from the cell containing it, so all can see. Like Foucault’s Panopticon, the judiciary’s desire to reverse “the principle of the dungeon… to enclose, to deprive of light, to hide” does not, like the Panopticon preserve “only the first and eliminates the other two” (554). Rather removes all three principles, for in their desire to bring to light and see the werewolf, it also frees him. Thus “the door was opened, a horrible monster burst forth from the dungeon with a terrific howl” (Wagner 67) and consequently the Chief Judge is “hurled down and dashed violently against the rough, uneven masonry, by the mad careering of the Wehr-Wolf” (67). The werewolf demonstrates that if there is any weakness in the physical boundaries that discipline society’s spatial geographies, they are open to violation not just by external forces, but even by humans themselves, as they allow them to be violated by their own desire to reinforce their watertight nature.
In conclusion, Reynold’s Wagner, though often dealing with the werewolf in brief segments of the narrative, conveys how the werewolf firstly is a creature that transgresses the fundamental boundaries of bodies. The human body then becomes that of the werewolf, and has the ability to transgress as a wolf, yet it is also a revitalised human body. When disciplinary bodies attempt to punish the transgressions committed by the werewolf, in part because the spatial orders lack the power to enforce themselves, the desire to secure the borders by the performance of justice, literally and figuratively, opens the door for the werewolf to transgress further.
Chapter 3 – The Wolves That Lurk Under Human Skin – The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold and the Guise of Humanity.
Frederick Scarlett Potter’s The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold, published in the London Reader of Literature, Science, Art, and General Information in 1882, stands as the least known text in this dissertation. Though Potter was a prolific writer who “published over fifty children’s books, including Erling: or The Days of St. Olaf (1876), Cousin Flo (1877) and Princess Myra and Her Adventures among the Fairy-Folk (1880)” (Easley & Scott 121), this short story on werewolves does not feature in critical discourse. This is not surprising, as in The Essential Guide to Werewolf Literature, a text that is the “first full-scale survey of werewolf literature” (Frost x), Frost admits of werewolf stories that there are “no doubt… many others waiting to be rediscovered” (105). Given the volume of werewolf literature Frost identifies, and the lack of a canonical text like the vampire finds in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the lack of attention to Potter’s story should not necessarily cause concern. This chapter analyses The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold and finds that Potter’s werewolf is at its most transgressive, as the creature masks its wolfish traits underneath a human form that allows it to infiltrate the rural community, and then express its wolfish strengths that allow it to trespass even deeper. The werewolf can then assimilate itself into cultural and reproductive spheres, as evidenced by his success in seducing Theresa by winning the games. Thus, rather than the wolf form only holding the ability to be transgressive as previously seen in Hugues and Wagner, the werewolf’s ability to express its wolfish traits under the legitimacy of a human human form breaks down any clear dichotomy between the two, and truly creates a hybrid creature that is wolfishly transgressive even when human. Ultimately, this exposes the futility of any spatial order that aims “to fix animals in a series of abstract spaces” (Philo & Wilbert 6) as well as regulate the place of human beings within society.
The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold constructs itself as a text about the deception of those policing spatial boundaries. In the Gothic “the monster always represents the disruption of categories, the destruction of boundaries, and the presence of impurities” (Halberstam 27). Potter presents the destruction and disruption of boundaries in subtle terms, for the werewolf infiltrates society in his human guise, concealing his wolfish other self under skin that “is figured in Gothic as the ultimate boundary, the material that divides the inside from the outside” (Halberstam 6). The notion that skin is a fundamentally secure boundary to order society is exploited by the werewolf. His ability to conceal, yet express his wolfish nature underneath human skin, embodies the fear that the werewolf can disrupt the orders of society by behaving as an animal, yet not signify as a threat to remove. Though the “secluded district” (Grendelwold 122) that the narrative takes place in may be able to rebuke the trespass of a wolf or other wild, threatening animals, the werewolf infiltrates the physical rural location because he does not appear as an animal or threat. Entering as a stranger from “beyond the Grendel forest… the dark line of forest which fringed the slope above the village” (Grendelwold 122), the supernatural werewolf demonstrates the danger that wild things can penetrate borders underneath a human form. This is because “the sign of the animal typically operates in the unwritten system of common-sense consciousness, of common knowledge, of stereotypes, where meanings are assumed to be self-evident” (170 Baker). However the werewolf, hidden within the flesh of the human, cannot easily signify as an animal threat. The werewolf’s entry is therefore granted because he deceives the visual policing of the boundary, allowing him to appear as a noteworthy “young man not to be easily overlooked” (Grendelwold 122) when he makes his appearance “on the fête of our patron saint” (123). This allows the werewolf to not just penetrate the physical border that divides the human rural society from the animal wilderness, but to cross the immaterial boundary of culture because he is human. However, his bestial nature is still present underneath his acceptable human skin, and Fritz uses it to participate in the celebrations of a day when “the whole population gave themselves up to games and merry-making” (123).
It is important to remember that the werewolf does not merely gain entry as a human, as he is not truly legitimate or non-deviant while human. His very being is intertwined with the wolf. Judith Halberstam notes that Gothic monsters represent “many answers to the question of who must be removed from the community at large” (3), however the werewolf Fritz, being a shape shifter, complicates such questions. In the “nineteenth century Gothic monstrosity was a combination of the features of deviant race, class, and gender” (3-4). Its monsters are “everything the human is not and, in producing the negative of human, these novels make way for the invention of human as white, male, middle class, and heterosexual” (22). Fritz’s infiltration is successful because he does not appear as a deviant, but neither is he purely human. Emblematic of this specifically human legitimacy is the acceptability his clothes grant him, for “none others were…so gaily dressed as he [Fritz]. His clothes were, indeed, of the same fashion as those of our own peasants, but they were of richer material, and bespoke the greater wealth of the wearer” (Grendelwold 123). The superior raiment of Fritz allows him to blend in and become a noteworthy person in the ensemble, “not easily to be overlooked” (123) because clothes are fundamentally human objects. However, these clothes are tainted by his werewolfery, as when Fritz is killed his wolfish body turns back into a human, and “still wore his gay clothes, but they were stained with blood now… where my knife had pierced to the heart of the savage beast” (134). In folklore, the werewolf transformation was achieved by an enchanted girdle of wolf fur; and this practice of donning “the wolf-girdle… was in the opinion of the vulgar perhaps the most usual way… of shape- shifting” (Summers 112). The suggestion is that Fritz’s clothes possibly function in the same way as the wolf-girdle, for if his clothes had no effect on his metamorphosis; they would not be present on his human corpse that has shifted from wolf to human upon death. This informs
Fritz’s appearance at the games, suggesting that the clothes that once “bespoke the greater wealth of the wearer” (Grendelwold 123) and “gave him importance in the eyes of our men” (125) also transform him into a wolf. Though Fritz does not wear the conventional wolf- girdle, his clothes therefore express the supernatural taint of werewolfery. This undermines the notion that his human appearance is pure of any wolfish hybridity, as the clothes that were once only human, are not only tainted by the inhuman, but able to transform their wearer into an animal. Therefore though “some question the porosity of the line between human and nonhuman animals, or otherwise argue that the boundary has always been avidly policed” (Wolch & Emel 19), the werewolf Fritz suggests that such boundaries are indeed porous. This is because even clothes that can withstand the scrutiny of a policing gaze can transform one into the animal that they were thought to be free of.
Despite initially seeming to abandon the transgressive potential of the animal body for the legitimacy of the human form, the werewolf is not a clear division between man and beast. Most werewolves show “the lupine instincts of the wolf or ‘beast within’ (an analogy of the unconscious) to have a damaging and negative impact upon the afflicted individual (an analogy of the conscious self)” (Du Coudray 6). Though this is true, Fritz’s conscious self, his human body, does not suffer from the literal ‘beast within’. Instead, his human guise allows the safe expression of his wolfish interior, in order to fulfil the fear that Carl “might be elbowed from his place [in Theresa’s affections] by some bolder rival” (Grendelwold 122). The werewolf achieves this usurpation by expressing his wolfish physicality in the wrestling and footrace in order to win Theresa’s hand at the dance. This is indicative of how “lycanthropy as expressive of surface-depth… for example, although the wolf is ‘hidden’ in the person, you can tell a werewolf by the eyebrows or the fingernails” (Du Coudray 61). Despite Carl’s initial wrestling success, a challenge by Fritz causes him to be “quickly overthrown” (Grendelwold 123) and after other victories Fritz, “remained the hero of the sport.” (123). Fritz, in human form, throws Carl from his place in Theresa’s affections, not by human faculties such as “greater skill” (123), but by his wolfish strength, as “he dragged me down with the force of a wild beast” (123). In the footrace, Fritz’s human form tells of his wolfish nature beneath, as he subverts the expectation that “Fritz would find many superiors” (124). Yet he “kept doggedly on… he moved at a kind of trot” (124). Though in human form, Fritz expresses the natural wolf’s ability to “endure a long-distance chase” (Marvin 27), to the extent that the narrative remarks that he “runs like a wolf!” (Grendelwold 124). Moreover, Fritz wins the footrace, when he “showed his white teeth as a dog might do when he snarls at his fellow” (125), an animalistic gesture that forces Carl to lose heart and allow Fritz victory. By expressing wolfish traits underneath the human body, the werewolf’s hybridity signals that it can successfully infiltrate not just the physical borders of the rural location, but the cultural boundaries within society. Fritz’s victory in the games by wolfish means wins him entry into the pool of eligible bachelors, a position that allows him to seduce Theresa.
Carl’s claim to Theresa’s affections is constructed by claims of spatial proximity; “he was her near neighbour; they had played together as children” (122). However he is in danger of losing that position if threatened by “bolder, stronger, and more handsome lads in the valley” (122). Thus the werewolf, by winning the games, as well as using his wealth to cultivate social acceptability, has become one of those competitors, and is certainly bolder and stronger because of his wolfish abilities. Since the prize bestowed upon “the champion of the sports” (125) is the mandate to “choose from among all the maidens present a partner with whom to open the dance” (125), human society effectively places Fritz into Theresa’s affections, as “she at once acceded to his [Fritz’s] request” (125). In this manner, the werewolf’s assimilation into society, and worryingly, the romantic landscape, is complete, and is truly at his most transgressive because he has been accepted as a partner and potential husband for Theresa. Society appears powerless to detect Fritz’s intentions, for “bewitched… like a bird before a snake” (126) the werewolf takes Theresa deep into his realm, the forest of the Grendelwold, and eats her – fulfilling the fear that the werewolf’s actions were of stalking humans as his prey.
With the werewolf’s aims accomplished, his retreat into the Grendelwold, the forest that “few of them had cared to penetrate far” (123) secures the werewolf’s mastery of the landscape. As a human, the werewolf infiltrates human spaces, but as a wolf can enter the wild spaces humans cannot, for the Grendelwold is regarded by them with “superstitious dread… even in broad day” (127). Carl, fearing Fritz’s intentions by the discovery of “a woman’s dress” (127) in the wood, indicates that the werewolf’s ultimate transgression was to invert how “animals serve as an important food source” (Mullin 208) by making the human the food. Due to the fact that Fritz’s wolfish actions were hidden under human skin, Carl is cautioned of going on “a wild-goose chase” (Grendelwold 127) because no one believes a werewolf has predated upon their society. There was no visual evidence of any transgression, so it is believed there is nothing to punish, even though Fritz’s wolfish actions were seen. Though Carl knows what manner of creature Fritz is, the werewolf is safe from harm now because he has transformed into a wolf, and as a wolf in the forest, his supernatural status is mistaken for “only that of a wild beast” (129). This is because the werewolf is now behaving like the wolf should; as a creature “supposed to inhabit wild areas” (Figari & Skogen 323). Thus, it is the exchange of bodies, as well as the ability to conform to spatial expectations of the animal that is key to the werewolf’s mastery of spatial boundaries, because he uses the right body in the right ‘place’ that human spatial orders have constructed.
With his transgression complete, Fritz, as a wolf in its wild place, is now able to do what humanity could not – defend the borders of his territory from incursion. The werewolf does not just contest, but undermines, as its ability to hide its true nature allows it to triumph.
Though it may be acceptable for the narrator to be found lying with a stabbed wolf in the Grendelwold, when it is revealed that he is lying with “ no wolf, but Fritz” (Grendelwold 134) the narrator “was thrown in prison on the charge of murder” (134). Thus, by his secrecy, the werewolf, despite dying, triumphs in his transgression, and appears to mock the human attempt to punish him. In death he appears to smile in triumph, as “from the open mouth the long white teeth glittered as of old” (134), showing the success of the werewolf’s ability to shapeshift between two shapes. In doing so, he is able to manipulate spatial orders, and therefore deceive the truth of what happened and where.
Scientific advances since the nineteenth century have dispelled any belief that human beings can metamorphose into any animal, yet the werewolf remains a popular motif in culture. Whilst it serves as “a primitive psychological mechanism to escape the real violence in contemporary society” (1 Otten), and even alerts one to the need “to examine the moral underpinnings of society” (15), these conclusions are only two examples of the multitude of meanings the beast can hold.
This dissertation has argued that the werewolf possesses the ability to transgress spatial boundaries created by human society in Sutherland Menzies’ Hugues, the Wer-Wolf, G.M.W Reynold’s Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf, and F. Scarlet Potter’s The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold. In each narrative the werewolf is able to resists spatial orders, even entering socio-spatial spheres by using its physical, wolfish traits. Either through costumed performance, by physically joining wolf and man through supernatural means, or disguising beneficial wolfish traits underneath human skin; the werewolf exercises animal strengths that the ordinary human does not. Though our admiration of animals “is grounded in the qualities you lack and that you admire… because you know you could never have them” (Rowlands 78), the werewolf is able to own traits that one might admire in the wolf itself; traits that others may find threatening. This allows the werewolf to become desirable and transgressive.
Hugues shows how performing the wolf can help the individual renegotiate his position exiled from an oppressive society by imitating the howl, claws and teeth of the wolf that threaten mankind. Wagner’s hybridity with the wolf revitalises his human body, and provides him with the ability to metamorphose into a wolf that can transgress by the speed it runs at, using it to even escape from prison. The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold shows how the werewolf can transgress by using his human shape to hide the wolfish traits of strength and endurance that allow him to out-wrestle and out-run the human competition, and so seduce Theresa. Therefore, it is clear that the werewolf can be a source of freedom. Though such an analysis may be far from the intentions of their nineteenth century writers, “books… behave monstrously towards their creators, running loose from authority… and turning to mock their begetters by displaying a vitality of their own” (Baldick 30). It is nonetheless important to pursue the evolution of the werewolf myth.
The werewolf therefore demonstrates the weakness of the spatial orders humanity constructs, not just to divide the human from the animal, but also to separate people from each other. The werewolf reveals the permeable nature of these borders and also suggests that the wolf, the wild animal once harmful to human interests, has imaginatively become an animal useful to us. This is not a negative thing, for just as “humans live in symbiosis with thousands of species of anaerobic bacteria… without which we could not digest and absorb the food we ingest” (Lingis 166), the werewolf’s close relationship with the wolf reveals how hybridity with the animal can better the human being. Recent “work in areas such as cognitive ethology and field ecology has called into question our ability to use the old saws of anthropocentrism… to separate ourselves once and for all from animals” (Wolfe xi), however in analysing the werewolf, this is not something to fear. With modern Japanese culture portraying the werewolf as “a metaphor for the ways in which humans are part of nature and yet separate from it, although…the focus is more on the spiritual aspects of that unity and separation, with the werewolf playing the role of boundary spanner” (Levi 154), it is clear the werewolf is indeed a “meaning machine” (Halberstam 21).
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