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.
While reading Reuben Sachs, I was impressed by the way that the text was easy to read yet said a lot. This simple, straight-forward way of writing can also be seen in Dickens’ text. Although Dickens’ texts often implemented anti-semitic language and concepts, and Amy Levy’s text is a progressive and representative text that portrays Jews as everyday people and not the cartoonish stereotypes commonly seen in Victorian literature, I did notice that there was a general similarity between the diction of both of their works. For example, when describing Reuben’s arrival, Levy writes, “”Lionel! Sydney!” protested their mother faintly after the boys seemed to take all sorts of liberties with the new arrivals.” By being straightforward and direct with what is going on in the text, Levy is able to make it more dramatic because her implications are not ambiguous. It is obvious that Mrs. Leuineger is angry from her descriptions. In a similar way, Great Expectations benefited from Dickens’ directness, specifically in chapter 6, when Pip thinks, “In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.” Dickens does not implement any fancy words when describing Pip’s fear of losing Joe’s confidence. He writes the emotions that Pip is feeling confidently and precisely.
The Aesthetic Movement began toward the end of the 19th century. It was made up of many different kinds of art, including fine art, poetry, literature, and music. The movement was defined by the notion that “beauty was the most important element in life” (Easby 2016).
Artists were creating pieces of work that embodied this ideal. This ideal was also codified in terms of pure viscerality and emotions. The emotive portion of aestheticism is by far the most important part of the movement, with Aesthetes forgoing stringent codes of morality in art so as to achieve freedom. And as the aesthetic movement forwent morality, its texts were largely devoid of prescriptive moral messages, rather giving the maxim to live life as art, which is to live life free. There is a lot of confusion around who the person was who began this movement; however, some research shows that aestheticism was coined by Oscar Wilde and Algernon Swinburne in literature specifically. This movement was known to be an important stepping stone to what is known as “modern art.” Poetry was a quintessential part of this movement, as a lot of the most influential works come from poets such as Morris, Swinburne, and Levy. Other influential writers such as Oscar Wilde were known to be “overly elaborate and ornate”, and utilized a more playful writing style.
Morris, who was another very important writer during this time, instead “saw art as inseparable from political ideals” (Burdett 2014). In addition to this, Morris’ views can be interpreted as saying that separating art from politics carries a danger, for this monomaniac cult of Aestheticism will naturally reinforce bourgeois politics. The reinforcement comes via way of not using art as a political challenge and confronter, and the fact that artists of the Aesthetic movement were generally of the higher class (so, naturally they would see no issue with de-politicizing one of the most powerful tools for transformative change).These kinds of works and styles of writing were known as “creative as well as productive” (Burdett 2014). At the time, this style of writing and these writers were often seen as “alarming to the more conventional Victorians” (Burdett 2014). Aestheticism was often heavily criticized in the context of the time in which it was written in the form of satire in the news, especially when artists and writers would release these works.
Many aesthetic art pieces focused on beautiful women with long hair in stunning interiors decorated with peacock feathers and other luxuries. William Morris created stunning household textiles, wallpaper, and furniture. The most famous aesthetic artist, however, was acclaimed American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who is best known for his self portrait of his mother sitting in a chair in a gray interior with a stern look on her face. His simplistic representations were constantly looking for a story with which to connect his pieces, and Whistler himself asserted that “the vast majority of English folk cannot and will not consider a picture as a picture, apart from any story from which it may be supposed to tell” (Easby 2016).
Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaols an epic poem that shared many similarities in themes to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The first similarity is the descriptions of death between lovers in both texts. This can be seen in the quote, “He did not wear his scarlet coat/For blood and wine are red/And blood and wine were on his hands/When they found him with the dead/The poor dead woman whom he loved/ And murdered in her bed.” This description seemed almost identical to the circumstances of the death of Catherine Earnshaw, who also died in her bed. In addition, Heathcliff asked to be buried next to her, hence the line of being found with the dead.
Further similarities can be found when Wilde discusses how relationships can bring about death in partners during their youth or during old age. He says, “Some kill their love when they are young, / And some when they are old; / Some strangle with the hands of Lust, / Some with the hands of Gold: / The kindest use a knife, because / The dead so soon grow cold.” Catherine was ‘killed’ by Heathcliff when she was young, while Heathcliff died of sadness when he was much older. In addition, when Catherine died, it was snowing, windy, and cold.
A comparison that I noticed was the striking similarities between Heathcliff’s relationship with Catherine and Pip’s relationship with Estella. Both relationships revolve around two individuals with strong class rivalries. Pip, for example, comes from poor or working class roots like Heathcliff, and is able to obtain finances in an attempt to be ‘good enough’ for his significant other just like him. Nevertheless, however much money they gain, neither men are able to acquire the love of their crushes in the longterm.
The main difference between the two is the emotions of their significant others. Estella, for example, is depicted as heartless, and does not feel anything for him, even though he is now a wealthy man. She says, ““Oh! I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt,” said Estella, “and of course if it ceased to beat I should cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no—sympathy—sentiment—nonsense” (Chapter 29 Paragraph 70). Even though he has gained money, he is not “old money” and is therefore still below her. The same can be seen in Wuthering Heights, where Catherine, who feels passionate emotions for Heathcliff, also feels like Edgar Linton is the safer, more socially acceptable match. Catherine’s strong emotions are even seen at the height of her illness, and main similarity between her passionate love for Heathcliff and Estella and Pip’s story is that they end up apart. Even though both relationships started in childhood, it seems like Pip’s relationship is a lot more one-sided than Heathcliff’s feelings for Catherine.
While reading Great Expectations, I noticed that Pip shared many similarities with Hareton. Hareton, for example, was an orphan living in the house of the cruel Heathcliff. Hareton’s mother, Frances, was sickly and died of her illness. In a similar way, Pip’s mother also died of an illness. For example, Dickens writes, “From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly.” This can especially be reflective of the time period when both books took place. Hygiene was poor and people often died young of illness or during childbirth.
Another similarity is that both Hareton and Pip are abused by the person who raises them. Heathcliff for example, deprives him of any economic power and reduces Hareton to a servant in his own home. Pip is beat regularly by his sister who raises him. Dickens says that, “she had brought me up “by hand.” Having at that time to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand.” This is yet another connection to Wuthering Heights because in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is repeating the abuse that he had been subjected to on Hindley’s behalf. The abuse seen in both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations is cyclic, and within families.
When reading the assigned readings, I saw many similarities between Huxley’s Agnosticism and Christianity and Gosse’s Father and Son. In Huxley’s writings, he describes the harsh and judgmental encounters between Christians and Agnostics. At one point, he says, “It is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what Agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to Agnosticism.” A common argument that Agnostics bring up is that it is ridiculous to assume to know the truth when there is no evidence to support your claims, and all evidence supports an alternative theory. This concept shows up in Gosse’s autobiography as well. This can be seen when he talks about a commonly held theory at the time, that “God hid the fossils in the rocks in order to tempt geologists into infidelity”. There was no evidence to support this claim, and yet Christians would use these unsubstantiated claims to go against science. In both pieces, agnosticism was used as a sign of being one with science, while for those who were religious, science was a form of heresy, and all scientific findings were God’s way of testing you.
When I was reading the passage, some of the imagery Emily used to describe Heathcliff reminded me of the text of William Blake’s poem “The Chimney Sweeper”. One moment that specifically stood out to me was when Bronte described a conversation between Nelly and Heathcliff in Chapter 33 during his impending illness. Nelly asked Heathcliff if he was afraid to death, to which he responded, “With my hard constitution and temperate mode of living, and unperilous occupations, I ought to, and probably shall, remain above ground till there is scarcely a black hair on my head” (Paragraph 53). Here, Bronte is using Heathcliff’s black hair as an indication of youth. When Heathcliff does not have black hair on his head, he will be an old man. However, contrary to Heathcliff’s claims that he will die an old man with gray hair, he dies of starvation at mid life. The Chimney Sweeper mirrors this with the quote, “A little black thing among the snow: Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe!” In the days before Heathcliff’s death, he is distraught over the relationship between Hareton and Cathy. He dies in his bedroom, following his pleas to be with Catherine. Nature, specifically wind, enters the room when his window is open.
Furthermore, the line “Because I am happy & dance & sing / they think they have done me no injury” can be connected to Heathcliff’s happiness toward being reconnected with Catherine. When he dies, Nelly even notes that he “seemed to smile” (Paragraph 64). When Heathcliff dies, he dies without redemption, and barely anyone is at his funeral because they all see him as the one at fault. This can be seen in the poem’s quote, “They think they have done me no injury” (Paragraph 10). Heathcliff, once a child servant, dies at a young age similarly to the main character in the poem, and no one seems to give him their attention.
When I was reading yesterday’s reading, many instances described in the book led me back to Percy Shelley’s poem England in 1819. The poem describes an old, dying, and mad king who is oppressing the British people. In a similar way, Heathcliff is sucking the life out of those who are living in his house, and all of those who come into contact with him. Shelley writes, “Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, / But leech-like to their fainting country cling, / Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow” (Shelley 4-6). This to me could describe his relationship to Isabella, who he abused until she died young, leaving behind a child. This could also describe his relationship to his son Linton, who is also dying, and is being subjected to his abuse in his house. This can be seen when Nelly Dean thinks, “I could not picture a father treating a dying child as tyrannically and wickedly as I afterwards learnt Heathcliff had treated him, to compel this apparent eagerness; his efforts redoubling the more imminently his avaricious and unfeeling plans were threatened with defeat by death” (Bronte 259). Here, Nelly Dean is saying exactly what Percy Shelley was describing in his poem: the closer to death the ‘king’ gets, the more he takes it out and tries to rejuvenate with the blood of the young, poor, and innocent. Shelley’s poem, which was written for a massacre, goes on to say, “A Senate — Time’s worst statute unrepeal’d, / Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may / Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day” (Shelley 14-16). With this line, Shelley is saying that all of the laws and civic rights meant to protect them are nonexistent. This relates to Heathcliff’s relationship with the children living in his care: there are no civic rights in his house: all tenants are subject to slave labor and abuse.
When reading Wuthering Heights, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between the relationships between men and women George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) discusses in her critical essay on Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft’s works of nonfiction and the way that Emily Bronte depicts the relationships between Cathy Earnshaw and her love interests: Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. In her essay, Eliot writes that both Fuller and Wollstonecraft assert that “while men have a horror of such faculty or culture in the other sex as tends to place it on a level with their own, they are really in a state of subjection to ignorant and feeble-minded women”. In Wuthering Heights, the influence that Catherine Earnshaw has on Linton and Heathcliff is astounding. Bronte writes, “At fifteen she was the queen of the countryside: she had no peer: and she did turn out a haughty, headstrong, creature… She had a wonderful constancy to old attachments: even Heathcliff kept his hold on her affections, unalterably, and young Linton…” (Bronte 66). Wollstonecraft and Fuller’s books argued for an education of women that exceeded outside of household duties and was well versed in the arts, humanities, and sciences.
While Catherine Earnshaw displayed qualities of a strong, independent woman based on her own outspokenness and free will, she is also deprived of a real education: although as a lady her education is superior to Heathcliff’s, at the same time her education is limited to manners and the ritualistic Christianity she and her brother are taught by Joseph. Nelly Dean, to a certain extent, is not a reliable narrator. She asserts judgement on Catherine based on her actions, her emotions, and the control she has over her relationships. For example, when Catherine discloses her intention to marry Linton and then use his money to assist Heathcliff, Nelly says, “It only goes to convince me that you are ignorant of the duties you undertake in marrying; or else, that you are a wicked, unprincipled girl” (Bronte 83). Bronte seems to be using Nelly to insert the argument seen in Fuller and Wollstonecraft’s works, and further discussed by Eliot: that in order to succeed in marital relationships, a woman must be educated: not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of their spouse.