Victor: by W. H. Auden - Summary and Analysis

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      Auden's poem Victor like Miss Gee is a traditional ballad. It is a companion piece to Miss Gee. It first appeared in New Writing in 1937 and was later included in the Collected Shorter Poems 1950. It is in the tradition of the popular ballad and has all the salient features of a conventional ballad. The language used in this ballad is simple and easy. The technique of question and answer has been used in this ballad.

      W. H. Auden employs the four-lined stanza with lines rhyming alternately and makes the tone of the poem dramatic. The imagery of mountains, snow, oaks and beeches and the sweeping wind lends a touch of exotic romance to the ballad.

      The poem is a mock warning against religion. It is also a parable showing the inadequacy of romantic love, or private life in general. The poem embodies the dangerous effects of the suppression of national instincts and the morbidity of the mind resulting from such a repression. This is the main psychological level at which the theme of the poem is dealt with.

Auden's poem Victor like Miss Gee is a traditional ballad. It is a companion piece to Miss Gee. It first appeared in New Writing in 1937 and was later included in the Collected Shorter Poems 1950. It is in the tradition of the popular ballad and has all the salient features of a conventional ballad. The language used in this ballad is simple and easy. The technique of question and answer has been used in this ballad.


Stanza 1-2
      In the first two stanzas, the poet says that Victor's father, a faithful Christian preached to his little son Victor about Christianity. He told him not to dishonor the fair name of his family by anyway and also advised him not to tell a lie.

Stanza 3-4
      In the third and fourth stanzas it is said that his father took the little boy out in a little dog-cart and read to him from the Bible, the line "Blessed are the pure in heart. His father died of heart attack on a frosty December day. His father was lacing up his boots.

Stanza 5-6
      After the death of his father, Victor's uncle got him a job in the Midland Counties Bank as a Cashier. Victor was handsome at the time of his father's death. He was quite a handsome young lad of eighteen. He used to dress neatly and cleanly.

Stanza 7-8
      In these two stanzas the poet says that after getting the job, he took a room in a respectable boarding house at Peveril. But he was not a lucky fellow. Fate was watching him like its prey. His colleagues used to cut jokes with him and enquired from him as to whether with he ever had a woman. They would provide him a woman if he comes with them on the Saturday night; but he did not reply. He just smiled and shook his head.

Stanza 9-10
      The manager of the bank, smoking a cigar, would also remark that such a thing was not expected of Victor. But Victor as usual, went to his room, took the Bible and read the chapter regarding Jazebel.

Stanza 11-12
      The poet says in these two stanzas that one day a girl of the name of Anna came to Peverial. She was extremely beautiful. She looked "as pure as a school girl on her first communion day. But when on the first day she got herself sexually seduced was like the best champagne.

Stanza 13-14
      On the second of April Anna wore a coat of fur. Victor met her upon the stairs and fell in love with her. He immediately proposed marriage. The first time the marriage was proposed, Anna refused. When the second time it was proposed she shook her head and smiled without saying anything. It indicated that she agreed.

Stanza 15-16
      In these two stanzas it is said that when Anna looked at her face in the mirror, she appeared to be proud of her beauty. But she wanted to settle down in life, and as such, when Victor proposed for the third time, she gave him a kiss and told him that he was her heart's desire.

Stanza 17-18
      In early August they were married. Anna wanted Victor to kiss her, and he took her in his arms and said, that she was his Helen of Troy. Here is an ironic tone in this utterance. As Helen of Troy led the Greeks and the Trojans to destruction, she would also lead Victor to his ruin.

Stanza 18-19
      In the middle of September after celebrating his honeymoon, he went to the office and was looking gay and happy. Though he was late by few minutes, the door of the office was quite wide open. Before entering the room he heard the clerks talking about him and his wife Anna. They were pitying the ignorance of Victor, for he had married an unfaithful woman.

Stanza 20-21
      Near the door of the office, Victor stood like a statue. One of the clerks was heard informing his colleagues that he had a great fun with Anna in the 'Baby Austin Car'. Victor's conscience was pricked. He walked back from the office. Tears rolled down from his eyes.

Stanza 22-23
      With a sorrowful heart, Victor looked up at the sunset and cried, are you in Heaven, Father?" The reply came from the void of the sky that the address of his father was not known. Victor then talked to the mountain covered with snow, and enquired, "Are you pleased with me, Father?" But the answer came in negative.

Stanza 24-25
      In these two stanzas, the poet says that the poet went to the forest and enquired whether she would be faithful or not. He got the answer that she would not be faithful to him. Then he came to the meadow and cried "O Father, I love her so." The answer came that she must die.

Stanza 26-27
      Victor came to the river which was running deep and still and cried: "O Father, what shall I do?" He got the reply that he must kill Anna. Anna on the other hand was sitting at a table in her house and waiting for her husband to come back from the office.

Stanza 28-29
      Anna was playing cards herself. She drew a card from the pack and found that it was neither Jack of diamonds nor the Joker, nor the King or the Queen, but the Ace of spades. (Ace of spade stands for hanged man). Victor was watching her standing on the door. Anna asked him as to what was the matter. but he gave an impression as if he had not heard her.

Stanza 30-31
      Victor was hearing voices in his sub-conscious mind that she must die that night. He picked a carving knife with the intention to kill her, and said it would have been better if she had not been born.

Stanza 32-33
      On seeing Victor in the posture of a murderer, Anna jumped up from her table and screamed. Victor followed her like horror in a dream.

Stanza 33-34
      Anna quickly moved towards the sofa. She tried to escape. She somehow managed to open the door and ran outside. But Victor followed her caught her at the top of stairs and killed her immediately.

Stanza 35
      After murdering Anna, Victor stood quite still on her. The blood of Anna ran down the stairs which sang, "I am the resurrection and the life." Victor felt that he had performed a ritual by killing his wife. He became another Christ who would bring resurrection and life to the doomed world.

Stanza 36-37
      Victor was arrested and taken to the prison in a van. Yet he presumed himself to be another Christ "I am the son of Man." In the jail he was sitting in a corner and said I am Alfa and Omega, I shall come / to judge the earth one day." He meant to say that he would redeem mankind on the day of judgment.

Critical Appreciation and Analysis

      Auden's poem Victor embodies the dangerous effects of the suppression of natural instincts & the morbidity of the mind resulting from such repression. This poem is dealt with the theme at psychological level. Besides this, there is another level also at which Auden makes his poem moving. Victor in the poem has been presented with a doctrinal and forbiddingly religious background. His father took him on his knee and said: "Don't dishonor the family name'.... His father said; Victor, my only son, Don't you e tell lies".

      The theme of the ballad is tragic and a tale of violence and bloodshed has been narrated. "There is a "mixture of the comic and the tragic; Victor's simplicity and discomfiture are comic, but they lead to the tragic murder of a young and beautiful, though faithless, woman. Auden has used this simple theme with telling effect to bring out the futility of religious faith, which is simply a kind of romantic escape from the reality of life, and which causes more harm than good to simple people like Victor.

      Here is a boy who follows all the traditional Christian rituals and injunctions. He follows the seven deadly virtues of Christianity. His fate is ironically tragic, but he is a true Christian hero. The Christianity emphasizes love, marriage, chastity etc, and Victor passes through all these traditional dogmas. The strength of the Poem lies in Christian words and phrases juxtaposed to colloquial phrases and words of day-to-day life. The poem shows "how a repressed personality can break out into religious mania when faced with a sexual situation it is unable to control. Victor's impulse to murder his faithless wife arises both from a hinted sexual inadequacy and from what Auden later called the constant tendency of the spiritual life to degenerate into an aesthetic performance".

      In the poem all traditional positive values are inverted. That the Christian religion and the set dogmas being preached by priests are parodied in the poem, becomes clear when the poet makes Victor's father preach - "Don't dishonor the family name," "Don't you ever tell lies," and "Blessed are the pure in heart". And the effect these teachings had on Victor made him a chaste and pious man, almost like Christ. He had never loved a woman till he was eighteen. He is ill-fated and Time Watches him as if he has already been declared as a prey to Death. He is so much devoted to his religion that he would only read Bible and what happened to Jazebel. He would not read any modern literature, any magazine, newspaper or modern psychological novel. Therefore the moment he meets Anna he is faced with a reality for the first time in life and this reality proves to be bitter for him. His hurry in his marriage indicates the sudden outbursts of his sexual desires, which he cannot control and which ultimately sweep him away to the sea of death. Victor's father fails to rescue him.

      To quote Dennis Davison, "Victor is a comic victorian-melodrama written in the form of a ballad. It is the tale of a 'mousey' bank cashier whose goody-goody piety is the result of paternal puritanical indoctrination. No, perhaps, that a regard for the family name, telling the truth, or remaining pure in heart, can as such be labeled puritanism, but Auden's comic details suggest that Victor's religious instruction was purely the oratorical, having no contact with concrete living. The naive and untested piety of Victor, reading his Bible in bed at the 'respectable boarding-house', is hardly of any help to him when he falls madly in love with the seductive Anna, who, for no convincing reason, finally agrees to marry him. When Victor accidentally hears the other clerks boasting of their affairs with Anna he weeps, and in bewilderment questions God he had been taught to believe in. In his tormented state he hears voices telling him to kill Anna, and there follows the episode, a curious mixture of comedy and horror, as Victor chases Anna, like an avenging religious fanatic, Victor is taken away in a van, insanely calling himself the son of Man.

      The poem is a bitter satire on the Christian religion. When Victor says to Anna "prepare to meet thy God," he is still performing a ritual. He says, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," "I am the Son of Man," and "I am Alpha and Omega, I shall come to judge the world." It is clear from these utterances that Auden seizes serious subjects for comic purposes, and in time his comedy becomes abuse. While in its bare contents the story of Victor is tragic, the total effect of the poem is comic. Auden keeps himself detached from the subject which is an essential quality of a comic writer. By his humorous touches, Auden keeps involved in the central situation of the poem and thereby succeeds in sustaining the comic effect throughout.

      The presentation of the narrative is melodramatic: the exaggeration with which the pursuit and the murder of the victim is described.


      The poem Victor is written in popular ballad form. A delicate and fine mixture of tragi-comic elements has been used in this poem. It shows Auden as the acknowledged modern master of comic verse. The skillful handling of the theme in the poem testifies to the fact that Auden is equally adept in dealing with non-serious subjects as with the serious subjects of his poems. His technical virtuosity and the capacity to bring different shades of moods into play is evident in Victor.

      The ballad may be taken to be a satire on religious fanatics. It also brings out evil consequences of sexual repression. Victor as portrayed by Auden is one of the sick of the people of Auden-world and he has been treated with comic contempt.

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