The biggest takeaway I have from this semester is the connexions that I’ve made within the texts we’ve read but also across timelines. Dissecting stories like Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in a way that was character and theme-centric allowed me to see the way that the human experience transcends the construction of eras, location, and society. Reflecting on the political/historical significance of Society in America and Darwin’s findings grounded me in the time period as well as the progression of thought that was happening at the time (with the industrial revolution and the beginning of a fight for women’s rights, for example). It also exposed me to some of “the classics” that I’ve heard so much about and can now discuss the intricacies of: my opinions on Heathcliff and Catherine’s clandestine affair, the translation of the overarching theme of great expectations from Great Expectations, the political significance of Harriet Martineau’s writings.
Oscar Wilde made many contributions to the Victorian literature movement. His sexuality was a double-edged sword in his success as a. We learned in class that his intimate relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas was detrimental to his reputation as an author. During the late 19th century in Britain, the Criminal Law Act (1885) stated that intimate relationships between same-sex couples were illegal. Thus, Wilde’s fiction was used as evidence by Douglas’s father to tarnish the reputation of Oscar Wilde. This was just the beginning of an effort to delegitimize Wilde’s value as an author and human being. In the following trials, he was found guilty of the original offenses and spent two years in prison. Shortly thereafter, he died from natural illnesses. His worth as an author was constantly undermined by a sexual identity he couldn’t change.
Possibly the most disturbing effect of these trials was its effect on the greater society. It only grew fear of same-sex couples, a fear not necessarily focused on prior to these trials. I think what is most interesting about Wilde’s sexuality is that it seems to have transformed its meaning, as evidenced by a shift in the focus of his literature. For example, The Picture of Dorian Gray appears to have celebrated homosexuality. There is a noticeable change in Wilde’s attitude when he wrote De Profundis during his prison sentence. While examining this article in class, it seemed to suggest that Wilde was discovered a newfound appreciation for Christianity. The life of Wilde is celebrated for his literary achievements, yet plagued by stigmas on sexuality that I’d say prevented his greatest potential. The life of Oscar Wilde changed my view on sexuality because I recognized the impact that a homophobic society can have on a single person’s ability to succeed.
Last semester I took Digital Humanities with Dr. Schacht and learned so much that I decided to take another class with him this semester. He always chooses such enjoyable readings and formats the class so we all learn from each other. The weekly research he has different groups do really does a great job of giving some background information on the pieces we are reading. Overall, the most interesting thing I learned about Victorian literature this semester was the class structure in Wuthering Heights. It was so interesting I decided to write my research paper on this subject! It gave me a good sense of why the characters were acting in such a manner and the reason for their actions. The difference in class structure helped explain why the characters were so selfish and aided me in understanding the novel better.
In thinking about this class as a whole, and what I would write for this blog post, I spent some time thinking about the name of the course, Victorian Connections, and what exactly that meant. I tried to think of some connecting force, a single thread, that tied everything we read this semester together. what I came to was this: in almost everything we read this semester, every writer seemed to be driven to their pen by a deeply ingrained sense of purpose. Writing was a tool for them. In the case of writer’s like Carlyle, Shelley, Blake, Mead, and (arguably) Dickens, it was being used to persuade, a way of pouring their convictions out on paper in an attempt to get the world to agree. For others, like Tennyson and Bronte, it was used to explore abstract and difficult concepts like love, grief, and connection, in what I believe was their attempt to come a little closer to finding the answers to the big questions that abstract concepts like these always tend to raise. This drive to use writing as an instrument towards a higher goal is something I haven’t spent much time thinking about before, but I truly believe it’s a concept that the writers we read this semester were almost all familiar with, and I find that deeply fascinating.
As I reflect on all of the texts that we explored this semester, it is safe to say that my initial admiration for Victorian literature stands strong as ever. Throughout the course of the semester, I was particularly drawn to the abundance of connections that existed between George Eliot’s essay on “Women in the Nineteenth Century,” Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Charles Dickens Great Expectations, and Amy Levy’s Reuben Sachs. While I was specifically interested in learning more about the various criticisms of gender roles that existed during the Victorian period, I think the weekly research assignments really enabled our class to unpack the various texts that we read and offered a multitude of perspectives that inevitably influenced and challenged my overall reading experience. It was in these research assignments that I learned more about Emily Bronte’s religious upbringing, Victorian conventions for women in the domestic sphere, the bleak consequences of industrialisation, and anti-semitic values that were present in Britian in the nineteenth century.
While I will admit that I enjoyed reading Wuthering Heights the most, I was surprised and oftentimes intrigued by the parallels between Bronte’s Catherine Earnshaw and Dickens’ Estella. I quickly realised that reading these novels side by side, further developed my understanding of the limited space and agency women were afforded in patriarchal societies. At certain points in our discussions on the domestic spheres, I even found myself thinking of Jane Austen and her social criticisms in the eighteenth century, which was evidently relevant in the texts that we looked at in class. Overall, I suppose it’s safe to say that the most interesting thing I learned this semester was that the women in Victorian fiction, in my opinion, continue to be among the most resilient and calculating heroines I have encountered in literature thus far. While this may be due to their sheer defiance of Victorian conventions and passionate dispositions, I thoroughly and wholeheartedly enjoyed reading and learning about the experiences of women in the nineteenth century.
Since I am fairly new to the English major, before taking this class I had only ever taken one other English class; New Zealand Literature. Initially I was a little nervous that I would feel out of place in a 300 level English class but as the semester went on I realized I belonged in this class and I made the right decision to become an English major. I have always been interested in Victorian literature, especially reading texts whose story lines take place during the Victorian era so I knew I would enjoy reading various texts written by Victorian authors. I think the best part of the semester for me was reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I had never read this novel before and once I started reading, I simply couldn’t put it down. I especially enjoyed our classroom discussions about the novel and dissecting the various relationships and themes. I also think having groups really helped facilitate classroom discussion and allowed for groups of people to think things through and question what we have read before sharing our findings with the rest of the class. Another think I really liked about this class was that it was mostly classroom driven. Coming to class, I knew that we (the students) would be able to lead the discussion and be able to ask questions about the given text and hear the thoughts and feedback from others. I prefer this type of classroom setting over that of a lecture hall. Overall I really enjoyed reading a variety of Victorian Literature written by many different authors. This class was a lot of fun to attend every week and the readings were always interesting!
At the beginning of the year, I wondered about the roles women had women in Victorian literature, over the course I have learned a lot about this topic, and I think the most interesting thing I learned was how to view things through multiple perspectives and how to form unique connections. Throughout the material there have been many interesting pieces that introduced me to strong female writers and characters, many I could relate to. Pieces such as Reuben Sachs and Wuthering Heights defy the normal gender roles during the time period. Victorian literature connects the past with the future in the name of exposing the way in which all, even that which seemingly contrasts, is connected. What surprised me was how much women writers used their writing to speak out against the oppression they were facing and worked towards social change. I loved studying women’s stories and the way each writer found a way to insert a strong compelling female character into their work. I was surprised when I learned about the female authors and how they projected themselves. I learned a lot and was pleasantly surprised with the powerful female authors and characters in Victorian literature.
The most interesting thing that I’ve learned about Victorian Literature this semester is how stark the class differences were. When I first joined this class I thought the Victorian Era wasn’t as fiercely divided, Learning about the Chartist movement was one of the first classes that illuminated this divide for me. Another thing that contributed to this understanding for. Me was learning about the scientific and religious perspectives of this time and how the two were often intersectional. For example, upon reading Darwin’s Origin of Species and seeing how. The science behind his evolutionary theories was applied to gender and racial perspectives was very interesting because while it is a subject that was briefly taught in my high school education it wasn’t really delved into.
One of the most important things I learned this semester was that stories in the Victorian era had a significant amount of political commentary. It was interesting to see views that were very similar to views that we have today, ranging from Dickens’ commentary on poverty to the poems we read. I was also shocked by the similarities between Wuthering Heights, which I had bought a copy of but never got around to reading before this class, and one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre. I learned that all of the writers from this period influenced each other because they came from the same circle with similar world views. Oscar Wilde and Amy Levy, for example, both new each other. It is hard from a modern standpoint to see the way contemporary writers influence each other, but looking to the past, it becomes a lot more apparent. I look forward to reading more books on my own time, and maybe re reading some classics I have already read before, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to see if any of these themes that I learned in class are seen in his book as well, especially after reading Wuthering Heights and seeing the way Heathcliff was described as a vampire. I wonder how many similarities there are between Bronte and Stoker’s descriptions and the world that they set up.
What a question! So much.
I feel like I have learned so many interesting things. I think Prof Schacht did a great job in selecting the texts for this semester. It made for interesting reads as we could tie connections and themes across different readings which is what English is all about, making a connection to something, developing that thought, and raising questions as well as sharing insight on that thought. Through the research every group was required to do every once in a while, I learned much about things in history during the Victorian Era which was probably the most interesting part to me. Being able to connect authors works with the history of the time period and aspects their personal lives was super cool. The most interesting one that stuck out to me would probably be knowledge about Oscar Wildes trials. Ironically, that was my groups topic which I think adds to why it was so interesting to me, particularly because of all the research and articles we looked through to gain insight on these trials. As it seems he shocked Victorian England with his behaviors throughout the trial, it was interesting to see this unfold in other aspects of readings we’ve done. How conventional attitudes are viewed, challenge, disparaged, yet on the other hand how they are followed and various reactions to these happenings.