This was originally posted for Sketching the Essence of Insanity and Crime in Netflix’s Alias Grace (Episode Three) | The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates as part of the Neo-Victorian reviews.
A shadow flits before me,
Not thou, but like to thee:
Ah Christ, that it were possible
For one short hour to see
The souls we loved, that they might tell us
What and where they be!
A message from the afterlife is what the speaker of “Maud (Part II)” By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (above) requires. This opening of the third instalment of Alias Grace seeks to grasp the mysteries of the afterlife. It supposes a desire to reach our loved ones in order to gain their knowledge of life beyond the veil; to probe the existence of an afterlife. The nineteenth century was a time in which Spiritualism became popular, and some attempted to contact the dead (Lwaxanna). But this passage also supposes Grace’s anticipation to reunite with Mary. Mary’s Death triggers a set of tensions in Grace’s faith and spirituality and it is this that is explored in the subsequent episodes.
Within a memory sequence, the story mirrors the common idea of a Victorian gentleman as an honourable person who would never knowingly do harm to a lady (V. J. (n.d.).). When Mary announces her mystery man’s commitment – “He promised to marry me” – the engagement relieves Grace. She respects Mary as a symbol of authority, trusting all she says, and is therefore confident that the marriage will occur. Though it is perhaps unthinkable for the master and the servant to be joined, still, the assurance was that of gold. Promise rings often indicated that a woman was spoken for or that an arranged suitor had been established for a later date. Mary trusted the gentleman’s intentions. Besides, Grace’s Irish beliefs maintain the promise ring as a token of love, loyalty, and friendship (Jewelers, B. D.).
Grace’s condition captivates Dr Jordan as she moves between the asylum and penitentiary since all assume her madness even though she has demonstrated an obvious clear-mind during their sessions. He remains rational, consulting the Reverend who assigned Grace’s case to him on behalf of the town so that he might write a report to pardon Grace. The young doctor is conflicted about Grace’s ability to remember the fine details of her life before arriving at Mr Kinnear’s house, which he presents a critical concern: “a vividness and a mass of circumstantial detail that indicates the problem is not with her memory in general,” thus he determines to continue analysing her, to unseal her mind, to find the truth that be uncovered as she tells her story.
Dr Jordan mentions Grace’s reference to Mary’s death, that while sitting next to the lifeless body she remarks her dead friend spoke to her – “Let me in” – which he concludes must have been an auditory hallucination. The Reverend emphasises the fact that the condition is common for those sitting beside deathbeds and especially among the sentimental, suggesting that an episode of fainting and hysterics might follow this hallucination, mixed with what would appear to have been somnambulism. After this comes a prolonged sleep and subsequent amnesia; the very same symptoms Grace has developed.
In the course of her daily life Grace is tortured by her guards, while Dr Simon’s method is not to rush her because she is already being driven by those around her to answer and respond; he craves to obtain her deeper trust.
“Rock of ages, cleft for me Let me hide myself in thee Let the water and the blood From thy riven side which flowed Be of sin the double cure Cleanse me from its guilt and power.”
Loneliness brings the true-self to the surface, hence Grace’s humming of “Rock of Ages”, a Christian hymn by Augustus Toplady (above). Through her freedom to relax during sewing, her humming voice recalls this hymn in which Toplady uses “Rock of Ages” as an endearing term for God. The theme in stanza one frames Christ’s blood as a river which brings absolution for sins (S. B.). This exposes not merely the tender singing voice of Grace, but her deep attachment to her Christian beliefs and that she might be asking for redemption.
Profound Victorian religious practices are also present in Mary’s funeral. Grace works hard work to maintain her good reputation – “She was buried in my best nightdress […]. And all laid out in white like that she looked just like a bride” – and emphasises the burial location as “Methodists on Adelaide Street, off in a corner right next to the paupers, but still within the churchyard,” and so somehow finds she can fulfil her duties towards Mary, even while struggling to deal with losing another soul.
Mary’s Funeral – Alias Grace, 2017: S01 E03 (Netflix, inc.)
As Mary’s part in the story closes, another gate opens in the form of Nancy who is visiting from Richmond Hill. She offers Grace the position of maid within the house of her Scottish master: Kinnear. Observing that Nancy’s charming features resemble Mary’s, Grace agrees. She holds some suspicion over Nancy’s dress, which is above her station – “Now what would a housekeeper be wanting with a dress like that, Nancy?” – though she remains a housekeeper solely acknowledged as the head of the house’s staff. Such a role demanded a huge array of responsibility and work since she would have to expertly balance her managerial duties with technical skills, with only the wage of around £15 (as a maximum) for a proper nineteenth-century upper-class family (J. D. (2013, December 19)).
Grace’s journey to her new home is not flawless. As predicted, she encounters some minor harassment, yet Mr Kinnear comes to her rescue, implying he will be a force to restore her confidence in men.
After arriving at the house, Nancy introduces Grace to McDermott – the stable boy – and their neighbour – Jamie. Next, she gives Grace a proper tour with information like; there is no separate laundry room, but there are things for washing (including Nancy’s clothes); the kitchen does not have a cellar under it as it is separated with a trap door just outside the kitchen door. The cellar stairs are too steep for comfort and one should always take a candle or a lantern to light darkness below: one could fall down the stairs and break their neck. It seems more of an obscure place for storing wine and apples than a functioning cellar.
Nancy giving Grace a tour around Mr Kinnear’s house – Alias Grace, 2017: S01 E03 (Netflix, inc.)
Working for a single man presents endless questions for Grace, who expresses some of them to Nancy, beginning with why he has never married, which bothers Nancy and establishes a slight hint of jealousy. She decides to avoid seeking answers and focuses instead on the importance of following her commands. For McDermott, being commanded by a woman is a grave insult to his masculinity, while tender Jamie never complains about assisting the ladies.
The second conflict over Mr Kinnear comes in his taste in painting, as Grace cleans his room and asks about the meaning of the picture hung in his bedchamber. Nancy tries to stop her: “It’s Susanna and the Elders, which is a Bible subject.”
“The Apocrypha generally consists of 14 booklets of which 1 and 2 Maccabees and 1 Esdras are the main documents and form the bulk of the apocryphal writings. […] many Protestant Bibles omitted them completely. However, in 1546 the Roman Catholic Council of Trent specifically listed the apocryphal books approved by the Roman Catholic Church as inspired and they are always included in Roman Catholic Bibles and are usually interspersed among the books of the Old Testament.” (B. T.)
“Susanna and the Elders”, Guido Reni (1620) (Public Domain)
As a Protestant, Grace argues that the matter of the story has no biblical origin. However, Mr Kinnear’s discussion of “The Apocrypha” brings a further conflict between master and maid, as Grace reiterates: “I know my Bible backwards and forwards and this is not one of the stories in it”. Nancy’s blunt reaction intimates secrets, blasphemy, and reflects irreligious roots.
Grace’s evenings within Mr Kinnear’s house – Alias Grace, 2017: S01 E03 (Netflix, inc.)
Unlike her stormy conflicts during the day, Grace’s evenings are peaceful and beautiful. At last, she feels at peace listening to Jamie’s flute, though it makes a pain in her heart as when none can tell whether they are happy or sad. Still, this has truly been a new chapter of her story.
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V. J. (n.d.). Victorian era England & Life of Victorians. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from http://www.victorian-era.org/victorian-era-gentleman.html
Jewelers, B. D. (n.d.). Promise Rings Reinforce Tradition. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from http://www.bendavidjewelers.com/blog/promise-rings-tradition
S. B. (n.d.). History of Hymns: “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-rock-of-ages-cleft-for-me
J. D. (2013, December 19). The Servant Hierarchy. Retrieved November 29, 2018, from https://countryhousereader.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/the-servant-hierarchy/
B. T. (n.d.). WHY DO SOME BIBLES HAVE A SECTION CALLED THE APOCRYPHA?Retrieved November 30, 2018, from https://www.biblica.com/resources/bible-faqs/why-do-some-bibles-have-a-section-called-the-apocrypha/
Alias Grace (2017) s01e03 Episode Script | SS. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=alias-grace-2017&episode=s01e03
Alisa Grace, episode 3 [Mary’s Funeral]. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2018, from http://sarahgadon.com/gallery/displayimage.php?album=523&pid=23327#top_display_media
Alisa Grace, episode 3 [Nancy giving Grace a tour around Mr Kinnear’s house]. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2018, from http://sarahgadon.com/gallery/displayimage.php?album=523&pid=23487#top_display_media
G. R. (2011, July 23). Susanna and the Elders [Susanna and the Elders, 1620 – Guido Reni]. Retrieved November 30, 2018, from https://www.wikiart.org/en/guido-reni/susanna-and-the-elders-1620
Alisa Grace, episode 3 [Grace’s evenings within Mr Kinnear’s house]. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2018, from http://sarahgadon.com/gallery/displayimage.php?album=523&pid=23719#top_display_media