Human Anatomy in Victorian Novels

When I was reading Reuben Sachs, I noticed that when Amy Levy described the characters, she focused a lot on their physical appearances. She wrote about what they wore and gave descriptions of their faces with a certain emphasis on their eyes. The first description I noticed this in was that of Mrs. Sachs, Reuben’s mother. She is described as having “a wide, sallow, impassive face, lighted up by the occasional gleams of shrewdness from a pair of half-shut eyes” (4). One of the more jarring descriptions comes when Levy is describing Reuben’s aunt Ada. She says of her face, “and from its haggard gloom looked out two dark, restless, miserable eyes; the eyes of a creature in pain” (15). To me, these descriptions really give a deep sense of the character by revealing parts of them that may not be revealed through dialogue. Finally, Levy describes Judith by saying she possessed, “wonderful, lustrous, mournful eyes, entirely out of keeping with the accepted characteristics of their owner” (21). Eyes have the ability to show emotions and feelings, revealing parts of a character that are unknown to the reader.

All of this interesting descriptive language reminded me of the group who wrote about hands in Great Expectations. The article they chose stated that there were over 450 references to hands in the novel which served to create distinctions between the characters. The group talked about the difference between Pip’s course hands and Miss Havisham’s bejeweled hands. This apparently showcased the class difference between these two characters. I’m not really sure how much these connect with one another, other than a descriptive technique used by the authors, but I just found it interesting that in both works, the human anatomy reveals more about characters than first meets the eye.

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