SKETCHING THE ESSENCE OF INSANITY AND CRIME IN NETFLIX’S ALIAS GRACE (EPISODE FOUR)

This was originally posted for Sketching the Essence of Insanity and Crime in Netflix’s Alias Grace (Episode Four) | The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates as part of the Neo-Victorian reviews.

Within the enlightenment of emotions, humans have the liberty to develop opinions that become actions. Opinions grow over the course of a lifetime and, if they are taken in faith, they will be sincere. Yet if poisonous trees of sin surround an individual, they will nourish upon errors. Rappaccini’s Daughter is used to bring this idea to the fore at the beginning of the fourth instalment of Alias Grace.

Blessed are all simple emotions, be they dark or bright! It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions.

Nathaniel Hawthorne probes human emotions in this above quote, and how life may influence an individual beyond their genes. There are various conceivable changes that come together to form a personality. These include one’s place of residence and community. The experiences gained in everyday life throughout acquaintance, family, and the community unite; all influence our personality. (Essays, UK. (November 2013))

Hawthorne’s short story connects to Alias Grace as it concerns a woman who was raised among poisonous plants and has become literally poisonous, suggesting that certain conditions might push a woman toward certain acts. The attempt to cure her poison ends up destroying her. Similarly, Grace Marks’s condition may be inseparable from the trauma experienced with her father and, later on, Mary’s death which produces the “insanity” that sends her to the mental asylum. Delusion and anxiety might be the true reasons for James to frame Grace as a murderer in his confession. Perhaps he dreaded the lonely walk of death and its moonless pathway to purgatory; he will be left with the stark choice between heaven and hell. Victorian Evangelicalism gave special importance to this choice as the moment of death signified the culmination of one’s preparations for death and the moment of divine judgement (Victorians and the Art of Dying (n.d.)). Evangelical death was not to be handled lightly. McDermott’s faith would have saved him through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) but, as he dies a murderer, Grace suspects his proper emotions were fear of the afterlife; he craved not to fall alone. She is not afflicted by his statement, nor would blame poor James McDermott for such a desire.

nancy's awful behaviour
Nancy’s terrible treatment – Alias Grace, 2017: S01 E04 (Netflix, inc.)

Once again demonstrating Nancy’s absurd behaviour, the deeper narrative portrays her as “two-faced”—she can often be friendly and yet harasses Grace, jealous and short-tempered (LitCharts (n.d.)). Her character is complex and highly ambiguous. Mixing evil and benevolent acts, she asks Grace to brush her hair and offers her hat for Grace’s birthday walk in the country. Afterwards, she asks Grace to shed blood by killing a chicken though Grace, opposed to shedding blood, allows Jamie to step in as a chivalrous knight.

Despite the dominating villainy of the muscular characters, Jamie presents a genuine tranquillity. He appears like a guardian angel to Grace, taking it upon himself to deal with the chicken and offering protection in his later proposal: “I would like to be your sweetheart. And when I’m older and have saved the money for it, we will be married,” though Grace refuses because she is a year older than him. Maturity was not based on years, but was considered against physical and emotional development individually; a girl might be ready to “come out” at age fifteen, while others might be considered mature at the age of sixteen, depending on when they were deemed to have outgrown the awkwardness of adolescence. A pearl of completed wisdom, Grace’s unfortunate circumstances have forced her to evolve to her persona (Fleming, R. S. (2012, May 09).)

montgomery_s tavern
A pen and ink drawing by Charles William Jefferys, showing the skirmish outside John Montgomery’s Tavern in Toronto on December 4, 1837, during the Rebellion in Upper Canada.

Nancy Montgomery has a surname which marks her as a rebel as a consequence of Montgomery’s Tavern, which was a focal point in the Rebellion of Upper Canada in 1837. Montgomery promoted the Reform movement, which rejected the cronyism and patronage prevalent in the politics of Upper Canada. He supported William Lyon Mackenzie’s travels to England to present petitions for change to the Colonial Office. Later, Montgomery was arrested and accused of high treason. Found guilty, and sentenced to be executed, his sentence was commuted. Yet, by the time of Grace’s story, he had escaped and fled to Rochester, New York, where he once again encountered Mackenzie (Scott, J., Montgomery’s Tavern (2017)). With the title as a sign of rebellion and instability, according to Mr Kinnear’s friends, they warn Mr Kinnear against falling under Nancy’s influence.

Respectability meant that one should possess a highly puritanical and moralistic set of values, such as industry, thrift, sobriety, discipline, restraint, honesty, modesty and courtesy. The middle classes took the Protestant Ethic as their ideal […] The ideal ‘perfect lady’ of the Victorian age had to fulfil three requirements: she combined total sexual innocence, conspicuous consumption and the worship of the family hearth. Her sole function was marriage and procreation. (Isokoski, M. (2008))

Nancy is regarded, under this manner of Victorian ideology, as a fallen woman, as one who was once pregnant with an illegitimate child; she is not welcome at church. Still, a Sunday sermon may be in contrast with the Bible’s teachings: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John). The Bible teaches forgiveness and Grace, remembering church people as essentially cold and proud and not good neighbours, assumes the church is a cage to keep God in and to allow the proud to cling to their opinions. God waits there locked up and does not go wandering about the Earth during the week monitoring their business; he does not watch the depths and doubleness of their judgement and lack of true compassion. Still, Grace begins to lose respect for Nancy who, though an older woman and the mistress of the house, remains unworthy for her sins.

McDermott’s temper comes out while trying to bring Grace to his level of hatred towards Englishmen, whom he views as thieves, whores, and stealers of land. Conflict and loathing, which forms a storm of grief within Grace’s heart, surrounds the Kinnear’s residence. She confesses her feelings to Dr Jordon about how she felt utterly alone during her birthday, in the asylum, and in the penitentiary when there were punishments. She stresses that the doctors and the orderlies, who took privileges to inflict abuse upon her, did not view her innocent but as one who had planned a poisoning then committed a brutal murder.

grace is utterly alone during her birthday
Enter a Grace is utterly alone during her birthday– Alias Grace, 2017: S01 E04 (Netflix, inc.)

Dr Jordon thinks upon the loneliness of Grace, her birthday and how alone she was in the world; a whole life passed, misfortune and pain afflicted by the circumstance of her sad story. Her life as a servant-girl with dreams about Mary Whitney’s misery; she wanted marriage, but Jeremiah paid her a visit asking if she might accompany him to start a new life – without marriage – in America, and suggested she would need a new name but did not talk about marriage. Grace did not wish to end selling herself for earrings or new clothes, but demanded peace of mind: “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.” (Revelation (also Apocalypse)).

grace's dream of headless angels
Grace’s dream of headless angels – Alias Grace, 2017: S01 E04 (Netflix, inc.)

Growing anxiety causes her to dream of headless angels in bloody robes. They are sitting in silent judgment upon Mr Kinnear’s house, and upon all within it. It is like the rider of Revelations on a white horse making war against the nations and covered with the blood of his enemies after a battle. (Soldarnal, Edward, M., David, Joseph, Scott, & Lazz, D. (n.d.).) Terror is everywhere but for the sheets, hung by Grace the night before which had blown into the trees; the nightdresses and shirts seem like headless angels, or as if their own clothes were sitting in judgment upon them. The stress placed on the shoulders of Grace grows as she faces an inner battle, tempted to run off with Jeremiah, but she is able, at this point, to resist.

Bibliography

Alias Grace (2017) s01e04 Episode Script | SS. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=alias-grace-2017&episode=s01e04
Essays, UK. (November 2013). How Environment affects Personality Essay. Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/psychology/how-our-environment-affects-our-personality-psychology-essay.php?vref=1
Victorians and the Art of Dying. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.history.co.uk/history-of-death/victorians-and-the-art-of-dying
Psalm 23:4. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2019, from https://biblehub.com/psalms/23-4.htm
LitCharts. (n.d.). Nancy Montgomery Character Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.litcharts.com/lit/alias-grace/characters/nancy-montgomery
Fleming, R. S. (2012, May 09). ← Early Victorian Women’s Hats; Part 3, wear whatever you like Penny Dreadfuls; the Victorian era adventures for the masses → “Coming Out” During the Early Victorian Era; about debutantes. Retrieved January 12, 2019, from http://www.katetattersall.com/coming-out-during-the-early-victorian-era-debutantes/

Scott, J., Montgomery’s Tavern (2017). In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/montgomerys-tavern

Isokoski, M. (2008). The Victorian Middle Class, Imperialist Attitude and Women in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Adventure (Unpublished master’s thesis, March 2008). University of Tampere School of Modern Languages and Translation Studies English Philology.

John. (n.d.). In John 8 KJV – Jesus Went Unto the Mount of Olives. – Bible Gateway. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John 8&version=KJV

Revelation (also Apocalypse). (n.d.). In Revelation 19:13 KJV – And He Was Clothed with a Vesture – Bible Gateway. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation 19:13&version=KJV

Soldarnal, Edward, M., David, Joseph, Scott, & Lazz, D. (n.d.). Whose blood is on the white riders robe? Retrieved January 13, 2019, from https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/11521/whose-blood-is-on-the-white-riders-robe

Images
Alisa Grace, episode 4 [Nancy’s terrible treatment]. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2019, from http://sarahgadon.com/gallery/displayimage.php?album=524&pid=23823#top_display_media
Alisa Grace, episode 4 [Grace is utterly alone during her birthday]. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2019, from http://sarahgadon.com/gallery/displayimage.php?album=524&pid=23968#top_display_media
Scott, J. (2017, February 2). Montgomery’s Tavern [A pen and ink drawing by Charles William Jefferys, showing the skirmish outside John Montgomery’s Tavern in Toronto on December 4, 1837, during the Rebellion in Upper Canada.]. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/montgomerys-tavern
Alisa Grace, episode 4 [Grace’s dream of headless angels ]. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2019, from http://sarahgadon.com/gallery/displayimage.php?album=524&pid=24212#top_display_media

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