Ten of the best
Mirrors in literature
Saturdad 30 October 2010
Richard II, by William Shakespeare
A weak king but a consummate drama queen, Richard II sends for a looking glass when he finds himself about to be deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. "Give me the glass, and therein will I read. / No deeper wrinkles yet?" Pronouncing his regal glory "brittle", he smashes the mirror on the ground, "For there it is, crack'd in a hundred shivers."
"Snow White", by the Brothers Grimm
Those famous lines addressed by the evil, vain queen to her magic mirror were originally in German: "Spieglein, Spieglein, an der Wand / Wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?" "You are," is always the mirror's answer, until one day the mirror tells her that her beauty has been surpassed by that of her step-daughter, Snow White . . .
"The Lady of Shalott", by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The eponymous lady is condemned to watch the world indirectly, via a mirror that exhibits to her the shifting scenes of Camelot. "A curse is on her" if she look directly from her casement. But then Sir Lancelot rides by, and she cannot resist a gander. Oh dear. "The mirror crack'd from side to side; / 'The curse is come upon me,' cried / The Lady of Shalott."
Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Alice is playing with her kittens in front of a large mirror. "How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty?" she asks. Before you know it, she is up on the mantelpiece. "Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through."
Dracula, by Bram Stoker A mirror shows Jonathan Harker that he really is in a fix. "This time there could be no error, for the man was close to me, and I could see him over my shoulder. But there was no reflection of him in the mirror!" Gulp!
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
Dorian is in the habit of taking a mirror up to the locked room containing his portrait and comparing his reflection with the increasingly horrid image on the canvas. When he realises what a monster he has become, he becomes another mirror-smasher. "He loathed his own beauty, and flinging the mirror on the floor, crushed it into silver splinters beneath his heel."
"I Look into My Glass", by Thomas Hardy
For the ageing poet, a mirror is a cruel thing. "I look into my glass, / And view my wasting skin, / And say, 'Would God it came to pass / My heart had shrunk as thin!'"Hardy sees his wasting frame but feels the old "throbbings of noontide".
"Mirror", by Sylvia Plath
Plath finds a mirror thoroughly uncanny. "I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. / Whatever I see I swallow immediately / Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike." A woman gazes intro this glass, which is as unpitying as Hardy's. "In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman / Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish".
"The Mirrror", by Paul Muldoon
Muldoon's poem in memory of his father imagines another malign mirror, taking his father's "breath away" when he took it down from the wall. Now the dead man's life has gone into the glass. "When I took hold of the mirror / I had a fright. I imagined him breathing through it." Father and son seem to replace the mirror together.
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
The most overtly supernatural event in Waters's novel involves a mirror. Rod, heir to spooky Hundreds Hall, tells the narrator that he has just seen a mirror on a stand walk its way across his bedroom. Is he cracking up? Or is there a poltergeist? Hauntingly (in every sense) the novel ends with the narrator catching his own reflection in a mirror.