Author Archives: Abbey Morgan

Group 6: Reflection

For our project, we were interested in gaining a better understanding of the role family plays in both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations. We can also begin to understand what role family plays in Victorian literature in a more general sense by comparing and contrasting these two family systems as samples. We felt that noting similarities between the families was important to help decide which character connections would be most beneficial to our project. For example, Pip and Heathcliff’s histories as orphans who go from rags to riches makes them a compelling duo to focus on. By then showing the differences between the characters’ familial relationships however, we are able to understand what effects these relationships had on their development. Why do two characters who have so much in common in terms of background turn out so differently? This project seeks to answer that question, along with many other questions regarding the family systems within these novels.

Mapping out a genealogy of the families in Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations allows us to not only demonstrate connections within the families of their respective stories, but also helps to make connections between both of the novels. Many similarities and differences between the families can be deduced simply by looking at the visual layout of the trees, while others can be understood by reading the included bios and relationship descriptions. Focusing on these familial relationships, connections between the novels become visible.

To further expound on the Pip/Heathcliff example, it is worth acknowledging other similarities in their backgrounds. As stated, both of these characters were orphans, and they were each adopted into families where one or more individuals treated them with cruelty: Mrs. Joe for Pip, and Hindley- along with a few others- for Heathcliff. However, Pip and Heathcliff react very differently to their situations, and our project hopes to offer some sort of insight as to why that is. We put an emphasis on many of the important relationships in these novels, and acknowledging these relationships makes questions like this clearer. In this case, although Pip and Heathcliff come from similar backgrounds, it seems that Pip’s relationships with parental type figures such as Joe, and later Magwitch, have an important effect on him. While Pip is an outcast for much of the story, the presence of characters like Joe throughout the entirety of the book give him some sense of family and belonging. Heathcliff however, loses his one truly nurturing parental figure early on in Wuthering Heights. With Mr. Earnshaw’s passing, Heathcliff’s sense of belonging dies as well. Even Catherine’s romantic love is no replacement for familial belonging.

Our Kumu family tree consists of individual characters, represented by different colored circles, and lines of relationship between characters. Clicking on the circles will pull up that character’s bio, which gives a brief overview of his or her history and significance to the story. The various lines branching off of the circles represent their relationships with other characters. Let’s look at Pip for an example of this. When you click on his character circle (IMAGE 1), his bio will pop out from the left (IMAGE 2). Because Pip is the central character of Great Expectations, he has more relationships than the other characters of the story. One of these relationship lines connects him with Estella. Clicking on the line that connects the two will open their relationship description (IMAGES 3&4). This can be done with every character and every relationship within both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations. This allows viewers to compare and contrast the family systems in each of the novels. We included a few examples of characters and relationships that may be connected between the stories, such as Pip and Heathcliff or Estella and Catherine. Clicking on the lines that link these characters will bring up an explanation of how the characters from the different novels are connected. We also included an example of relationships we felt parallelled each other in the novels: Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship compared with Pip and Estella’s. However, we feel that the project allows viewers to easily make their own connections between the books, as well as to build an understanding of the functions of these family systems. Something that seemed to emerge from the analysis of both family units is how patterns of abuse are transgenerational. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is abused by his “family,” particularly by Hindley. Heathcliff in turn treats the next generation, Linton and Hareton, with similar cruelty and contempt. Something similar can be seen in Great Expectations. Pip grows up in a household where he witnesses Joe, his father-figure, accepting abuse from Mrs. Joe, Pip’s maternal figure. With this serving as Pip’s primary model of family and love, he goes on to fall in love with Estella, from whom he accepts similar abuse.

After deciding to focus on familial connections in the stories, we began trying to figure out what tool or website would be best to design our family tree(s). We worked off sort of “base models” of the family trees that Ashley created in Google Slides (IMAGES 5&6). This was really important in figuring out which characters needed bios, and which relationships we wanted to focus on. The first program we tested was an online family tree builder called FamilyEcho. The website was interesting, but it presented several challenges such as how we would demonstrate relationships and make them interactive. We also played around with the website designer Wix, where we tried to build a website to display the genealogies and connections. However we decided that this was not an ideal format. Dr. Schacht suggested the website Kumu, and after exploring it, we decided it was perfectly suited to our project. Kumu shows different bubbles which have the names of the characters in both of the novels we are exploring. The lines show the connections that these characters have with each other. When pressing on the line that links two characters together, we can see their relationship to one another or how they might be similar. The entire time we were testing different programs, we used Google Slides as a workplace, where we wrote up the character bios, relationships, and connections. This made it extremely simple to adapt to whatever format we were testing at the time. The end result of all of this is a study in how nurture takes precedence over nature or circumstance.

Reshaping my understanding of Victorian lit

Prior to this class, I tended to avoid Victorian Literature like the plague. I’m not totally sure why; maybe I always associated it with intolerable run-on sentences, or maybe it was PTSD from high school English classes? Either way, I never gave Victorian lit a fair shot- something I now regret. Victorian literature is not the dull, frivolous, one-note thing I once thought it was. It is history, it can be exciting, and none of it is quite the same. I read both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in high school. And I hated both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in high school. But rereading them, despite my initial dread, I found them infinitely more interesting. I think something that was key to this, particularly to Great Expectations, was understanding how the story fit into the context of the era. I had never thought to consider things like Darwin and evolution, or prison reform, or anything like that when reading these stories. I think perhaps Victorian literature is misunderstood. It is not isolated narratives of the wealthy aristocrats in fancy clothes, it is much more socially conscious and relevant than you would initially think. That is what I found the most interesting about Victorian literature.

Group 6: The Necessity for Autonomy in the Jewish Community

Upon its publication in the late 19th century, Reuben Sachs was denounced by the Jewish community and the mainstream press for its seemingly anti-Semitic themes. This is a criticism that Richa Dwor contends with in her essay “The Racial Romance of Amy Levy’s Reuben Sachs.” Dwor acknowledges the rather harsh way in which Levy frames her own community, which for many, paints her as a “self-hating Jew.” However, Dwor rejects the idea that Reuben Sachs is a self-loathing or even malicious story. Rather, it is a critique of the culture and religion; a call for change that Levy deems necessary in order to preserve the future of Judaism. In this, Levy does not reject the religion, she embraces it with an optimism and desire for “the continuity of Jewish life.” Dwor points to Levy’s heavy criticism of the repression that the Jewish community imposes on its own people. Levy illustrates this critique largely through the image she presents of marriage and opinions of women. Dwor claims that it is through this, particularly the depiction of marriage, that Levy makes the argument that the Jewish community will destroy itself if it continues in its competitive and controlling path.
Reuben Sachs is Levy’s attempt to encourage self-awareness in her community in order to correct its self-destructive behavior. Dwor believes that Reuben Sachs makes the argument that allowing greater agency within the religion and community will, in turn, secure its longevity. This is where the articles ultimate idea of “racial romance” comes in. Levy’s criticism of traditional Jewish marriage exemplifies the way in which greater independence, individualism, and open-mindedness can help a group on the brink of collapse. Dwor states that Levy, throughout Reuben Sachs, expresses an anger in Judith’s marriage that Judith herself cannot express because of the strictness of the culture’s inflexibility. It is in this that Levy makes that call for change; greater agency would allow for the reemergence of the racial romance Dwor focuses on. As a result, it will help to strengthen the community and protect its future.

Spinsters, Aged, and Unstables: The Undesirable Women of Victorian England

There is a character in Reuben Sachs who I believe deserves more attention. From her introduction and unfavorable description, I became interested in Aunt Ada. At this point however, I really only know that she resembles a “creature in pain” and that she does not seem to care for herself very well. Though her personality appears to be very different, I was reminded of Miss Havisham in her perpetual wedding dress relative instability. Both women come from a life of wealth, and yet they are equally miserable. What’s more, they both are depicted as perhaps supernatural. Aunt Ada resembles a corse while Miss Havisham is ghostlike. This can thus further be connected to Catherine, who, after her mental breakdown, also turns into a phantom-type character. Then this seems to be something not uncommon of Victorian literature; a female character who’s mental state is weak or questionable taking on a more spectral role. Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre is a wonderful example of this. Now, the cause Miss Havisham’s, Catherine’s, and Bertha’s mental states are all attributed to the actions of the men in their lives. That makes me curious to see, if we learn more about Aunt Ada, if her story will follow a similar path.

A Plea for Change

In De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde offers commentary on his time in prison. While both are significant, I am more interested in the latter. The Ballad of Reading Gaol describes events that Wilde experienced, particularly the hanging of a fellow inmate, but more importantly, it presents a call for reform of the penal and prison systems of the era. Not only was the legal system incredibly flawed, but the prisons were inhumanely brutal. Health concerns were countless, work was destructive, and guards seemingly took pleasure in punishing inmates for the smallest of infractions. Wilde himself was sentenced to two years hard labor for “gross indecency.” Reading Gaol appears to comment on the reformative hypocrisy of prison, that it ravishes the minds, bodies, and souls of the very individuals it seeks to reform. More generally, Wilde also focuses on the depressing and hopeless conditions. The poem effectively communicates the perpetual terror and dread the prisoners feel as a result of their environment. Finally, the piece can be read, among many other things, as a criticism of the death penalty, thus rounding out Wilde’s cry for change.

I could not help but be reminded of Great Expectations‘ Newgate Prison while reading both of Wilde’s pieces. I feel that they give important context in understanding the conditions, and make Pip’s visit to Newgate that much more effective. Of course, Pip critically comments on what he observes himself, but Reading Gaol allows us to perhaps better understand Magwitch’s character and his desperation to escape the prison. This is because Wilde’s pieces have the “benefit” of being told by someone who experienced these very hardships. The similarities in Wilde’s and Dickens’ work and criticisms of the prison systems should come as no surprise, as Dickens was a prominent social reformation activist of the Victorian era. While the theme is much less pronounced in Great Expectations, both it and Wilde’s De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol serve as important criticisms of the penal system of the 19th century.

The Parallels of Pip and Magwitch

What stood out to me the most in these last chapters of Great Expectations was the similarities, as well as the differences, between Pip and Magwitch. As we come to learn in chapter 42, Magwitch was an orphan just as Pip had been. However, Magwitch did not have other family he could rely on, and instead had to resort to crime to support himself. The two also share the experience of being somewhat exploited by wealthy individuals who manipulate them. Pip has Miss Havisham, who taunts him with Estella and allows him to believe that she is the source of his wealth. Meanwhile, Magwitch had Compeyson, who ends up getting him arrested through his schemes. The experiences they have with their respective exploiters, however, has different impacts on the two. Miss Havisham’s abuse causes Pip to want to “better” himself and become a gentleman. Magwitch, on the other hand, becomes bitter, and almost vengeful. And understandably so.

Yet another similarity between the two is their lost or unattainable love. Pip is in love with Estella, but in these chapters, she officially rejects him and instead marries Drummle. While talking about his past, Magwitch briefly brings up a girl before quickly brushing it off. This leads the reader to believe that he has lost someone he loves as well. The commonalities continue a bit later in the story as each of the men’s enemies come into more prominence, but I’ll avoid that for now to remain spoiler-free. Overall, I think it is interesting to see how close the two backstories are, and to realize how simply each of them could have gone down opposite paths.

Class & Marriage in the Victorian Era

As I was reading the chapters for this week, I was struck by something in Herbert’s story. In chapter 22, he explains to Pip the tragedy of Miss Havisham and the wedding that never was. In his description of Miss Havisham’s bridegroom, Herbert seems to indicate that the man had little money or status, and that he was really supported by Miss Havisham. I was surprised by this because Herbert makes no explicit reference to the class difference between the couple, only references it through other comments. He doesn’t say anything about the marriage being taboo, and nothing else in his story or the book up to this point indicates this either. I had expected this to cause at least a few issues, but it didn’t.

Perhaps why I was so prepared for the class divide to be focused on more than it is in these chapters of Great Expectations is because it was such a significant obstacle in Wuthering Heights. Cathy married Edgar because he was of her class, and therefore suited to her. But Cathy did not love Edgar, she loved Heathcliff. In a conversation with Nelly, she states that she wants to be with Heathcliff, and wants to marry him, but that doing so would shame her. This in effect, is really the main driving force of Wuthering Heights. I just expected the reaction to be similar in Great Expectations; at least significant enough for Herbert to mention in his story.

The Unreliable Narrator

It is interesting to read Great Expectations and realize that the story is not being told in “real time” but rather that Pip is retrospectively narrating experiences from his life. That begs the question: just how reliable of a narrator is Pip? The stories that he tells are incredibly detailed, and almost seem tangible. How many of these details is Pip essentially “making up”? It seems unlikely that an adult would so clearly recall events from his childhood in the way that Pip does. Perhaps he is cushioning these memories with fabrication because he cannot remember, or maybe he truly believes that what he is saying is real. Regardless, it would seem reasonable to assume that the tales that our protagonist is telling are not 100% accurate.

Of course, we have been faced with the “unreliable narrator” issue before, in Wuthering Heights. While there are several different narrators, all of whom could be unreliable in their own right, Nelly is the one that sticks out. Questioning how it’s possible she knows certain things, if she’s altering the truth to make herself seem a bit better, or other reasons, Nelly is often considered to not be the most trustworthy. In both her and Pip’s cases, the unreliability does not necessarily come from a deliberate attempt at concealing truth, but simply from poor memory, or remembering things “differently.” But it still serves to consider their narration with a critical eye.

The Victorian Serial

Serialization, the printing format by which a larger narrative story is broken up and published in miniature installments, was the dominant publishing format of the Victorian age. These installments were typically published weekly or monthly in magazines or newspapers, or in short booklets called “shilling numbers.” Shilling numbers differed from other serials in that they were short, stand-alone booklets that, appropriately, cost one shilling. Serial fiction existed as early as the 17th century, seeing the publication of works such as L’Astree by Honore d’Urfe, but it was not until the 1800s that the format truly took off. The serial was popularized by Charles Dickens’ first novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in 1836. This kind of format was new to many readers, and it gave others the ability to read books they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford, as the publications were much cheaper than single editions. Each serial writer was different; some would write the entire story and then split it up into the installments. Others, like Wilkie Collins, wrote the installments week to week, or month to month. The latter allowed authors to respond to events in his or her life, whether those events be personal or societal. In Great Expectations, for example, the first few chapters take place around Christmastime. This reflected the time of year they were published: the story was printed as a weekly serial starting in December and running through August. This made it more relevant to the readers, and likely aided the story’s reception. Along with the novel itself, serials were published with illustrations; plates and vignettes at the beginning and end of each one. These stories were typically written to entertain a family audience, and the illustrations surely helped.
While Dickens is well known as a writer of serial fiction, many other popular novels were originally published in the serial format. In fact, as the dominant form of fiction printing, a large portion of Victorian fiction was serialized. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe are just some of the novels made famous by this format, although there are countless other easily recognizable titles in the category. Knowing about the serial novel can help to shape the way we read and think about Victorian literature. The stories were not necessarily intended to be read in their entirety over a short period. As such, pacing and action was written in response to the form it had to fit. Reading these stories, now novelized into single editions, it serves to consider the format they were originally published in.

Wuthering Heights and the Endurance of Trait

As I was reading the excerpts from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and considering what I already knew about Darwin, my mind kept going back to the second generation featured in Wuthering Heights. Something that initially struck me about young Cathy and Hareton was that they both exemplified the qualities of their parents and/or, in the case of Hareton, those who raised them. However, they were undeniably improved versions of their predecessors. Cathy had the strong will and determination of her mother, but was complemented with the gentleness and refinement of her father. She was not hot-headed and impulsive like Catherine, nor was she weak of will as Edgar sometimes was. This was similarly true for Hareton. Though Heathcliff was not his dad, he was in many ways more of a father to him than Hindley. Hareton exemplified Heathcliff’s strength, and a sort of stoicism that could also sometimes be found in his mentor. And yet, there was also a gentleness to Hareton that could not be found in Heathcliff. Perhaps it came from his mother, or more likely from Nelly, who cared for him while he was still a boy. Both Cathy and Hareton inherited the most favorable traits, and were the best versions of their parents and caregivers. As such, the two succeeded where their forebearers could not. The opposite of Cathy and Hareton, however, would be Linton. Unlike the others, Linton displayed all of the worst qualities of both of his parents. He inherited the unfavorable traits, and therefore, it fits that he was unsuccessful. This does reflect the idea that Darwin discusses: what Herbert Spencer coined “survival of the fittest.” In many ways, Cathy and Hareton were the “fit,” and therefore survived while Linton, on the other hand, was far too weak, and was naturally, to put it harshly, eliminated.