After reading the selection in Embodied Selves regarding French anthropologist Paul Broca’s 1864 publication “On the Phenomena of Hybridity in the Genus Homo,” it made me curious as to the characters we have been introduced to that may be so-called hybrids. Hybridity is defined simply as a mixture. Hybrids often combine both human and animal features. Two characters that come to mind are Carmilla from Carmilla and Bertha Rochester from Jane Eyre. Each may be, according to definition considered a hybrid. Broca claimed that “human hybrids tended to be prone to cephalic deformity. This logic appeared to validate the attribution of bestial features of mixed race persons in literature of the Victorian period. According to Broca, hybrids were also supposed to be genetically inclined toward criminal behaviors and desires.”
Le Fanu’s Carmilla tells the story of Laura and Carmilla, portrayed as a nineteenth century lesbian vampire. A vampire by definition is a mythical being whose existence relies on feeding off of living creatures, usually their blood. Laura has nightmares of an animal that prowls near her bedside in panther form. “I saw something moving that resembled a monstrous cat, a sooty-black animal.” (p. 39). According to William Veeder, “Carmilla did not resemble the traditional cadaverous vampire. She is “the prettiest creature I ever saw…’so gentle and nice’…’absolutely beautiful with such a sweet voice and a slender pretty figure.”
Brenda Mann Hammack acknowledges in her article “Florence Marryat’s Female Vampire and the Scientizing of Hybridity” that among the best known images of bestial hybridity from the Victorian era are Charlotte Brontë’s nightmarish descriptions of mad Bertha Rochester. When Jane Eyre first glimpses the Creole madwoman, she perceives a “clothed hyena” scrambling on all fours, then rising onto “hind feet.” Unsure “whether it was beast of human being,” Jane fuses the two: although “it snatched and growled like some strange animal…it was covered with clothing: and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.” Jane is reminded of “the foul German spectre—the Vampyre,” a characterization that seems justified when Bertha attacks her brother with her teeth, threatening to drain the blood from his heart.
In conclusion, one of the novels that I read in a previous class also exemplified the definition of hybrid. Although this novel speaks about hybridity differently than the characters of Carmilla and Bertha, Passing by Nella Larsen tells the story of two friends Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield both of African and European ancestry. Clare “passes” as a white woman, her mixed race never revealed to her white racist husband, while Irene embraced her African American heritage. Critics analyze this novel in a number of ways. Some argue that it is a classic example of the tragic mulatto. Johanna M. Wagner debates whether their struggle revolves around race as the title suggests in her article “In the Place of Clare Kendry” A Gothic Reading of Race and Sexuality in Nella Larsen’s Passing.” It is her opinion that Passing may be about security, status, and sexuality as well as the obvious theme of race.
The term hybridity encompasses many perspectives. Animal and human characteristics, mixed races and genetically altered species, as well as a blending of existing and new cultural ideas may be viewed as examples of hybridity.
What is Hybridity?
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