Towards the Self

In our reading for De Profundis, one of the passages that spoke out to me the most was the one where the narrator spoke about blame and fault. When reflecting on the suffering in his life, the narrator states: “Terrible as was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still” (Wilde paragraph 8). The narrator states here that he believes his own actions hurt him more than the actions of those around them. I found this very interesting considering how, in class recently, we’ve been talking about the exact opposite. A lot of our discussion lately has been about revenge and people being wronged; Mrs. Havisham for most of Great Expectations would probably say that what her ex-fiance did to her was more horrible than anything she did to herself. I thought that, therefore, this line in De Profundis couldn’t be more different from the material we’ve been reading; not unexpectedly, I was wrong. What the narrator says in De Profundis connects with something we’ve read in Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. When speaking to Catherine about the suffering she faced due to her decision to marry Edgar Linton, Heathcliff states: “Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself” (Bronte chapter 15 paragraph 24). Here Heathcliff says that Catherine’s primary source of suffering is Catherine herself (and not him) and that her own actions are what has “killed” her. This is also evident by what he says a bit further down in the same paragraph: “I have not broken your heart—you have broken it.” In other words, Heathcliff believes that Catherine’s actions towards herself were, to use Wilde’s words, “far more terrible” than what Heathcliff (or anyone else) did to her. This repetition of the theme of self-hurt in Victorian literature might have implications that individuals have to self reflect and examine the source of their sufferings before they decide on revenge.

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