Bell, Book, and Candle: Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things and the Exorcism of Victorian Sentiment

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 1995


Dalkey Archive Press


Turning one blind eye on nature and another on nurture, Poor Things has been nicely described as "An odd combination of Pygmalion and The island of Dr. Moreau" (Henscher 32). With the book's allusions to Frankenstein, Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Rider Haggard's She, and various nineteenth-century potboilers, Gray's protagonist is fully justified in asking (most self-reflexively), "What morbid Victorian fantasy has he NOT filched from?" (Gray 272-73). But the concluding scene, set in 1945, strangely recalls Sue Townsend's recent The Queen and I (1992). In Gray's novel the "queen" is Victoria, penniless, surrounded in her basement clinic by lame dogs and stray cats and offering soup to the poor and abortions to the needy. She has become a Miss Havisham cum Beatrice Webb, optimistically devoting her remaining days to the verse decorating the book's cover: "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation." The irony of Lanark is not far away.


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