Reflections on Victorian Literature

As I was reflecting on the connections blog posts I’ve made this semester, I’ve discovered that a lot of what I wrote centers mainly around two themes: love and violence. I wasn’t purposely trying to write about the same themes, so I found it very interesting that I managed to center my blog posts about aspects of love and/or violence regardless. It was nice how, through the blog posts, I managed to answer the one of the things I wanted to learn the most about Victorian literature: “What are some common themes evident in Victorian texts?”

I’ve learned that Victorian literature deals very strongly with themes of violence. We saw this early on with the short poems we read in September. “The Chimney Sweeper” spoke about child labor in Victorian England and dealt with violence because of the physical exploitation and poor health conditions that children were put through. Great Expectations also deals with violence physically, for it starts with Pip being threatened by the convict (Provis) and with Provis physically fighting against Compeyson. Emotional violence is also evident in a lot of the texts we’ve worked with. One example would be Wuthering Heights, which deals with heartbreak and broken love; Heathcliff tells Catherine I: “‘I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine'” (Bronte chapter 15 paragraph 24). Violence is also inherent in a lot of Victorian institutions. In my blog post titled “Violence in Inheritance,” I spoke about how the concept of monetary inheritance leads to sibling rivalry and violence in Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights. In Great Expectations, Mrs. Havisham’s brother (Arthur) had conned his sister out of a large sum of money and had a conman break her heart. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff takes advantage of Hindley’s gambling addiction and takes the Heights (the Earnshaw inheritance); the property then becomes one of the core issues of conflict between the two. Violence is a major reoccurring theme in the Victorian literature we’ve worked with this semester.

Love/affection in relationships is another theme I’ve seen many times this semester, which is interesting because it seems to conflict strongly with violence. This is particularly evident in Wuthering Heights, specifically with Catherine’s lines about Heathcliff: “My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary” (Chapter 9, para. 89). Catherine here categorizes her relationship with Heathcliff as a relationship of love. Aside from romantic love, familial love is also present in Wuthering Heights, most notably with Catherine II (Cathy), who notably tells Nelly: “‘I would rather be miserable than that [Edgar Linton, her father] should be: that proves I love him better than myself’” (Bronte chapter 22 paragraph 13). In my blog post titled “Selflessness and Love,” I connected this to Great Expectations and the relationship between Provis/Magwitch and Pip, for Provis had genuine affection for Pip and left Pip all his money instead of spending it for himself (Dickens chapter 40). Love and affection are also evident in Pip’s relationship with Joe. Even early on in the novel, it’s shown that Joe truly loves Pip, for Joe recounts to Pip that, when he married Pip’s sister, he was insistent on Pip living with them (Dickens chapter 7). Additionally, at the Christmas dinner, we see Joe giving Pip gravy every time Mrs. Joe or one of the guests insults Pip (Dickens chapter 4). Love seems to be as big of a theme in Victorian literature as is violence.

The complexity between love and violence in Victorian literature reminds me of the poem “England in 1819.” My group was assigned this poem in class when we were analyzing the short poems, and we focused specifically on the final lines of the poem: “Time’s worst statute unrepeal’d / Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may / Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day” (Shelley). My group spoke about how this line could hold simultaneously negative, violent meanings (since “phantom” and “bursts” don’t hold positive connotations) and positive, hopeful meanings (since the lines describe how England’s “tempestuous day” will be “illuminated” and the people saved). In the same way, I think Victorian literature maintains this tension between love and violence. It probably reflects how, despite being a turbulent and violent time period, Victorian individuals had love and hope for the future. So in the end, I think one of my greatest takeaways from the class is the existence of this complexity.

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