Hannibal vs. Jane Eyre, part II

The second half of my chat with Zoe Selengut

Parts I and I-1/2 here. I accidentally called I-1/2 II-1/2. This is what we in the newsletter industry refer to as an error. Spoilers for Hannibal follow.

Ed. note: Every once in a while, readers use the “reply” function to send me a mean email. I’d sure appreciate it if you didn’t! Instead, please consider clicking the “unsubscribe” button right underneath the “subscribe” button at the bottom of every installment.


DANNY: God, yes, Mikkelson’s scenes with Gillian Anderson feel like watching two Persian cats licking one another

ZOE: Tell me, do you already know from Grace or from The Culture what happens to Hannibal and Will in the very end?

DANNY: I do! They fall over a bloody cliff together

ZOE: I saw that as it FIRST AIRED AND ITIS STILL AIRING IN MY SOUL EVERY SUNDAY EVENING

there’s also a part where Abigail kills Nicholas Boyle by accident, as you do, and Hannibal tells her he can help, he can fix it, he can make it all go away. 

the thing where he makes Abigail ask for it it isn't a one-time incidental, being asked is his Thing in every possible way. & a hangup of the kind he denies having. In Hannibal, murder does the job sex does in other fictions, but this is a murder and a sex thing both, and I believe it is the kind of thing everybody knows about Hannibal except Hannibal

DANNY: yes! “If you can't ask for it, you can't have it,” is classic Scary Mommy 

ZOE: he thinks if he makes people ask for help, they are complicit, even though he won't tell them what he's going to do. That is nonsense. He just likes it.

(god I can't wait for you to see the scene where Gillian falls through the bottom of the bathtub into the inky void of space, there's nothing like it)

anyway but Hannibal, both the character and the show, are ideologically anti-backstory in a way I admire very much

and the other side is he really will give those who subordinate to him anything in the whole world if they ask correctly

no matter who he's got to kill

but it's your fault for asking, not his fault for selflessly saying Yes

and rejecting his love is the sin for which there is no forgiveness

DANNY: “Look what you made me do” / “After everything I’ve done for you (that you didn’t ask for)”

ZOE: the cataclysm which I compared to Thornfield burning (even though that isn't really right), is what happens when his gifts are rejected

you don’t tell Hannibal you appreciate the thought but did he save the receipt?

DANNY: “There's been a lot of lies in this family, Hannibal.”

“And a lot of love, Will.”

ZOE: I always thought the thing that would make him kill you the absolute hardest would be accidentally walking in on him practicing a new chopping technique or making a mistake in harpsichord practice. He is never, ever, ever to be seen when he has not prepared himself to be seen

DANNY: Another point in the transfemme category – Hannibal is Diana at the bath, all his victims Actaeon stumbling into the wrong part of the woods

Hannibal is all technique and Will is all process 

ZOE: I don't remember anymore what I meant about calling him a 18th century figure in a 19th c. emotional landscape, but it was something to do with fixity of character

you know how people in novels nowadays must “grow and change and learn something,” or at least we’re told that’s what readers are supposed to want from them

but Hannibal has become the Hannibal he wants to be and he is not only going to stay that way, he was never anything else, he says so.

DANNY: Yes, that too! Will’s in therapy, the “change process” or whatever the hell

ZOE: except official orders are to keep him stable, which is not what old-school psychotherapy is really for

(Hannibal’s all technique no process, this is why I am positive he's a bad composer even if he's a good performer)

DANNY: my (limited) knowledge of 18th-c literature has a lot to do with DENIAL/ACQUISITION 

whereas 19th-c literature has a lot to do with INTERIORITY and PROCESS

like, Pamela is about staying Pamela as hard as you can for 500 pages 

ZOE: yes, and the whole literature of seduction: virtue is not letting anybody affect you

DANNY: Right — Hannibal's virtue is contested, never Will's 

Will is porous from the START, Will is almost more Ginevra Fanshawe from Villette than Jane in that sense 

ZOE: Hannibal would like to stay in eternal mythological relation to Will, where every morning he hunts him down & slaughters him, and every evening he rises up whole, like a couple of constellations. he has such a hard time with dead people staying dead (i.e. with change)

DANNY: but the question of, Is Hannibal Going To Wobble?? is much more open-ended than Is Will Going To Break? (yes, and often, and in the same way)

yes! It’s very much a god’s struggle to understand death 

“okay, you passed through the underworld last night. Wake up now, let's go again”

“oh no I forgot to ask for eternal YOUTH when I made my lover immortal, and now he's a cricket”

ZOE: He's brittle in a way Will isn’t because Will's able to cope with doing something he wishes he hadn't done. But Hannibal finds it kind of offensive, and doesn't have any what I would call coping mechanisms. Mythic figures don't have to.

though I think Will also would like to remain in stasis & unchanging, because I can't imagine him living with someone else at all. Not even a roommate. he hasn't got a traditional romantic progression plot in mind at any point that I can remember – or maybe he says he wishes for it with Alana but he's clearly not going to get it, he can say anything he wants about that

DANNY: He’s married for about one episode, but there’s no progression — one day he has no wife, the next day, Wife. Then no wife again.

ZOE: I missed the Ginevra bit earlier

I will say that Lucy Snowe wants to be a Hannibal all the way, even if circumstances & too many inner passions make it difficult. She has a human being inside her “human suit” the whole time. The big Sexual Disgust scene where she sits & stares at the Cleopatra painting & censoriously assesses her (Cleopatra’s or the painter’s model’s) “wealth of muscle, affluence of flesh,” her magnitude, her lassitude, her lounging, her loungewear — extrapolates indolence and laziness & uselessness to the household from it, (tries to) strip every erotic mystery from her by being as brisk about it as possible and reducing this art object to a “useless woman” & then reducing that (imaginary!) useless woman to weight & circumference — to meat, basically — she isn't actually Hannibal but this is how Hannibal looks at people before putting them in his recipe file. If she were Hannibal this scene would mean she's going to eat that bitch later.

People often interpret that scene as being about daring to look at what decent women blush at, which it is. It’s also about condemning the voluptuous giantess aesthetic in favor of her own type: smallish, swift, cerebral, slender, cold, still on the outside, burning and always in motion on the inside. And that comparison is inevitably about appetites. She doesn’t sit and stare, she stands and stares, and that’s important too.

no she does sit! on a bench! fuck it I'm tired

anyway I have never determined to my own satisfaction whether Lucy Snow really wants to fuck Cleopatra and is mad about it, or whether she means every last thing she says and has nothing but Hannibal-esque contempt for the unruly flesh. usually I tend towards the latter.

THAT’S all

DANNY: God, we could have a TALK about the transfeminine/Orientalist scapegoating of the Cleopatra scene!!

ZOE: it’s sometimes apologized away by looking at the way she’s supposedly satirizing “trends” in male desire, but it really seems to me much more like a one-way focus on the imaginary woman, never mind the artist or the men who like to look at her. Like how DARE she rest when there’s work to be done, and her so strong and capable, what kind of Protestant does that! a perverse one that’s what kind

I had completely forgotten that I ever knew this but I was reading in the Belgian essays last night about C. Bronte’s lifelong fascination with women being burned to death

particularly as martyrs, forcing themselves to endure it, even if someone else lit the match. Very intense, very masochistic in a way I feel Will Graham would follow fairly easily even if it's not exactly his deal.

Whether it’s his deal or not, we leave Will Graham here: Spare, silent, judging, rolling up his sleeves to arm-wrestle Lucy Snow for the right to eat Mr. Rochester’s leg.