There are still a couple of other Power Pack posts from back in the day, but I think my favorites have all been pulled over. So, let’s start something new-old, shall we? I only ever read the first two volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but they did inspire a few posts which are of the I-don’t-hate-this variety. Starting here:
I had the chance to finally read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume 2 recently, but I have to say that, at first, I didn’t find it nearly as interesting. The story started a bit too slowly for me, I think, but as it progressed, it became increasingly disturbing. I’d made it through Mina and Quatermain’s mutual scar sex only to witness Hyde’s invisible rape scene. And as blood was spreading across the tablecloth “like a daguerreotype developing,” my cringing finally turned into an internal, desperate cry: good god, was this just a tale meant to present every twisted mix of violent sex Moore could imagine?
Then, a bit like that daguerreotype, the realization crept over me that, actually, that may be the point, after all.
It occurred to me, in the aftermath of Hyde and Nemo’s revelatory dinner, as we cut away to a river seeded by a writhing red weed, that the sex/violence hybrid–whether overtly or implicitly–was all over the second volume of LOEG, and with that came a new insight into not only the volume I was reading, but its predecessor. It seems to me, then, that the major conflict in both League volumes is between the last two words of the title: these are stories exploring the outcome when the extraordinary (the carnal, the base) meets the gentleman (societal convention, or “civilization”). The first volume is a victory for the latter, the second the resurgence of the former.
League the first starts with its characters in all manner of un-civilized, carnal pursuits, and it’s up to Mina to reclaim every one of them. If I remember correctly, actually, each of the three characters Mina collects is in the middle of some kind of decidedly uncivilized sexual activity: Hyde is raping prostitutes, Griffin raping schoolgirls, and if I’m not mistaken Quatermain himself was covered by girls in his opium den (it’s been a while since I read the first series, so I may be entirely wrong on that last).
The gathering of the League, then, is the first step in the battle. They’re claimed like the animals they’ve become, Quatermain dragged off to his drugged objections, Hyde shot, Griffin given the bucket of liquid treatment to which you’d subject a horny dog. They are chastised and punished, and returned to the world where such activities are not acceptable. And then, they’re forced / asked to save that world. Amazingly enough, they do just that, proving themselves worthy, respectable. Civilization has reclaimed its errant members.
Volume 2, of course, reminds us of the problem with civilization in its conflict with the carnal. Carnality is full of ebb and flow, back and forth, dearth and deluge; it thrives on its own inconsistency, on the fact that nothing is ever settled. Civilization is all about moderation, or a return to same. Never spend more effort than is absolutely necessary to attain one’s goals. The gentlemen have been reclaimed, and civilization is content with this. It is inevitable, then, that a resurgence of the extraordinary catches the gentle off guard, and thus the tide turns.
Clothes make the Man
Civilization in the world of LOEG is a matter of trappings, and nothing more clearly points to this than the prominence of clothing in controlling / countering the extraordinary. It all starts with Mina’s scarf, of course, but Quatermain is found naked and must needs be clothed. So, too, is The Invisible Man reclaimed by clothing and swaths of fabric. Hyde finds himself a good tailor, but it seems to me the true clothing he wears, that with which civilization reclaims him, is the guise of Henry Jekyll himself. Both of the latter men lose their superhuman abilities when shrouded by civilization, which is exactly as society likes it. Their power comes precisely from rejecting the trappings of their world.
Griffin is invisible in those times when he rejects what it is to be a gentleman–not just clothing, though it certainly seems to symbolize his intermittent choice to accept civilization. Notice Griffin’s most heinous acts (rape, betrayal, assault) all occur when he is invisible (and thus naked). In most cases when our Invisible Man is clothed, he returns quite easily to the role of the gentleman: he takes up a cigarette and a nice drink and joins in the play at being what people want to see (and thus, what they can see).
Hyde becomes a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut in the same circumstances. Especially telling, here, is the fact that Griffin isn’t invisible to Hyde; Hyde is the expression of anti-civilization, and wears any of its trappings generally as a means of mocking them. Mina and Quatermain (and the rest of society) cannot see Griffin because they keep looking for a man; Hyde isn’t so restrictively blinded. Free of the civil shell of Henry Jekyll, Hyde can see the parts of the world civilization chooses to believe simply aren’t there.
The basic premise begun in LOEG 1 and more fully explored in LOEG 2, then, uses clothing to illustrate just how flimsy the mores of society are. Anyone and everyone strips them off this time around, and this time it’s hell to get them back on. Hyde strips himself of Jekyll in the second chapter, and never concedes to put him back on. Griffin is similarly and irretrievably naked by the third chapter, while chapter four quite literally strips both Mina and Quatermain.
(Original version published at Trickle of Consciousness)