Author Archives: Claire Corbeaux

Above and Beyond

Though I began this semester wondering about the gender roles and norms that women were subject to during the Victorian period, I, inevitably and thoroughly, learned about that topic and many, many other topics in my time in this course. However, despite the sheer variety of Victorian concepts and issues that I learned about, I think that it was through learning about and becoming aware of Victorian literature, and the concepts and issues that contextualized, informed, and inspired it, that I was able to learn something that was much greater than just the sum of these parts. Indeed, my experience in this class has taught me to see connections when their presence is not obvious. Despite the fact that all of the Victorian literature I engaged with this past semester dates well over a hundred years old, I felt that I could relate to some of the sentiments and struggles of the characters housed within the literary works I read. I could readily relate to Catherine’s attachment to her home, Wuthering Heights, and to the blustering, heath-filled moors that contained it. Her desire to see Wuthering Heights manifested as her own personal version of heaven reminded me of the love I have for the natural environment of my home in Long Island. Furthermore, I found myself relating to Pip’s growing pains and especially to his complicated feelings regarding leaving home and attempting to find success out there in the world, away from that which is familiar.

This class also taught me that Victorian literature, aside from transgressing the barriers of time through its ability to reach and relate to me and my own life, cannot be readily defined. Despite having taken a class entitled “Victorian Connexions,” I cannot say that I could decisively and concisely define Victorian literature. For example, while there are elements of Victorian literature that are focused predominantly on spiritual manners there are also many aspects of Victorian literature that are intensely preoccupied with the sciences and with the new scientific knowledge that became available during that time period. Moreover, the two are often found to somehow coexist within the very same piece of literature, sometimes without being completely resolved, as is the case in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, In Memoriam. Several pieces of Victorian literature, such as Wuthering Heights and Reuben Sachs, also seemed to simultaneously uphold and combat the gender roles and norms of which I was initially curious. Additionally, the Victorian period saw the employment of at least three distinct sub-genres: Romanticism, Gothicism, and Realism. These three sub-genres are entirely different from one another yet they do appear at work together in certain works of Victorian literature, for example, in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. It is thus undeniable that the genre of Victorian literature is enigmatic and multi-faceted. However, I think this is only to be expected, as the Victorian period of literature marked merely a collection of years wherein Queen Victoria ruled and not necessarily a particular style, ideology, or philosophy. Therefore, the period is bound to be filled with a vast array of distinct concerns, literary styles, and trends, that all inspired different authors in a variety of ways such that each author created a product that was unique from all else being generated at the time.

I think these aspects are what is really key to Victorian literature. While Victorian literature cannot be readily defined it certainly lends itself to connection. There is a great deal of connection latent within the tensions that exist between each work of Victorian literature, for each work is different yet simultaneously emblematic of the time period in which it was composed and of the individuals who lived during that time period, at least, in part. Moreover, Victorian literature, despite its age and despite the rigidity of its timespan, can be connected to today, particularly in its ability to communicate certain eternal concepts, particularly, the very concept of connection and how one perceives oneself as connected to others, connected to one’s environment, and connected to history and to the lives that have and are yet to have been lived. Victorian literature, despite its being framed by time, defies this seemingly concrete aspect of its definition in its ability to connect the past with the future in the name of exposing the way in which all, even that which seemingly contrasts, is connected.

Catherine, Judith, and Gender Norms

Though women are still burdened by many different paradoxical and unfair standards today, my knowledge of Victorian literature seems to indicate that intensely contradictory and unrealistic norms have always been imposed upon women. Within the works of Victorian literature that I have read, the female-identifying characters appear to either submit to these harsh expectations or defy them in any way that they can.

In one text I read this semester, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, the heroine, Catherine, represents an atypical representation of women insofar as that she aims to improve the social situation of a man, Heathcliff, and also figures as the dominant force within her household and within her marriage to Edgar Linton. Furthermore, Catherine is portrayed as an extremely passionate individual who is free-spirited; who longs to roam the moors “hardy and free.” However, Catherine’s behavior is marked as decidedly unconventional for a young Victorian woman and she is therefore often criticized by her servant and childhood friend, Nelly. Catherine is emotional but fierce and is best characterized by her gripping intensity, especially when she is discussing her love for Heathcliff and for the environment in which she grew up. Overall, Catherine’s passionate persona is perceived as defying traditional gender norms and expectations, particularly through her free-spirited nature and desire to exercise her own agency in order to accomplish her own goals.

On the other hand, Reuben Sachs presents us with another female character who also expresses herself outside of the expectations Victorian society forced upon women: Judith Quixano. Though Judith differs vastly from Catherine, Judith still is not described as being accepted by Victorian society. Indeed, Judith is not entirely accepted within her own family circle, being that she lives with her cousins, whose fortune is far greater than hers. Moreover, Judith, due to her lack of family fortune, is unable to fully pursue her love interest, Reuben Sachs, and is not regarded as a true potential match by Reuben himself. Furthermore, Judith is not regarded by Reuben as a typical woman. Rather, Reuben lauds Judith’s lack of sentimentality and often praises her composed, apparently unfeeling demeanor. In order to cement this praise, Reuben compares Judith to the other women within the story, like Esther and Rose, who “fall in love several times a season” and “bewail” themselves throughout their “affairs de coeurs.” On the other hand, Reuben claims that Judith is “utterly free from such sentimental aberrations.”

Though Reuben praises Judith by pitting her against women, a move that demonstrates the inherent sexism of the era, he also chastises Judith for being so cold and unfeeling, especially towards him. Thus, Judith is constantly under scrutiny for failing to meet Victorian expectations for women. In the eyes of Reuben, Judith is at once better than her female counterparts and therefore atypically female through her rejection of sentimentality. However, Reuben also sees Judith as unwomanly in her lack of sensitivity, particularly towards Reuben himself. In this way, Judith’s character and the way in which Reuben views her demonstrate the paradoxical and unfair norms and expectations that Victorian society forced upon women.

Furthermore, when Catherine and Judith are considered simultaneously, the impossible and contradictory nature of Victorian society’s expectations becomes even clearer, as, though Catherine and Judith bear incredibly different, perhaps even opposite characterizations, both are viewed by society as agents that act and exist outside of the prescribed gender norms of the time. While Catherine and Judith certainly act outside of Victorian gender norms, they, in tandem, nevertheless provide an accurate depiction of all that a woman can be. Indeed, women can be as fierce and passionate as Catherine; however, they can also be as demure and unsentimental as Judith. Both Catherine and Judith prove, even in the face of harsh gender roles, that there is no one way to be a woman.

The Benefits of Reflection

In both Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, the reader is presented with a reflective, and, at least partially, regretful narrator. Though Pip represents a fictional narrator and Wilde is relaying events that presumably actually happened in his life, a similar feeling is gleaned from engaging with both works. Indeed, though Pip’s life story is told linearly, from the time he first realized where he fit into the world to the moment he is reunited with Estella, it is told as a recollection of the past and is therefore laden with intermittent and personal reflection. On the other hand, Wilde’s De Profundis lacks this seemingly linear structure and instead is completely based on reflection as the entire piece centers around Wilde’s coming to terms with his imprisonment and realization of his past misdeeds.

Pip and Wilde seem to have committed similar misdeeds. They both lived hedonistic and materialistic lifestyles. Pip is enormously in debt by the time he uncovers the truth about his expectations where said debt was accrued by his participation in superfluous clubs and activities, such as the Finches of the Grove. In a similar way, Wilde devoted his life to satiating his each and every fancy. However, as Wilde learns during his time in prison, his desire was a “malady” that led him further from himself.

Furthermore, it is only through reflection that Pip and Wilde are able to recover themselves and follow the path of self-realization. Pip reflects upon the way in which he treated his loved ones, Joe and Biddy, and how he should have cared for them instead of for wealth and high society, entities that only ended up bringing him misery. As a result of this reflection, Pip is presumed to finally be satisfied and at ease with himself and seems to be content with his situation in life. Similarly, Wilde realizes that pleasure is fleeting and finds solace in sorrow, deeming it to be the most human and also the most eternal sensation. This act of reflection allows Wilde to be comforted in the knowledge that his time in prison, though painful, has not been in vain and that he will be the stronger for having undergone this experience and made the aforementioned realization regarding sorrow.

Ghosts in Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations

Wuthering Heights ends with a striking and iconic depiction of ghosts when a young boy perceives the spectral Heathcliff and Catherine upon the heath, roaming the earth together in an atypically active afterlife. Ghosts are referenced, though not explicitly seen, on numerous other occasions, for example, when Heathcliff visits Catherine’s grave and feels the oppression of her spirit upon him. In all, Wuthering Heights portrays ghosts as legitimate and active forces that are capable of presenting themselves within the physical world and who perhaps even reside within it.

An active ghost is also introduced in Great Expectations when Magwitch details his life story to Pip and Herbert. While glossing his experience working for Compeyson as a forger and counterfeiter, Magwitch mentions one of Compeyson’s “colleagues,” a man named Arthur, who was involved in a scheme with Compeyson to swindle a rich woman of her fortune. Herbert and Pip realize that this woman was Miss Havisham, making Arthur the man who left Miss Havisham at the altar. This realization is supported by the “haunting” that Magwitch experiences at the hands of Miss Havisham. Magwitch reports an instance wherein Arthur, in a cold sweat, claims that the ghost of Miss Havisham has presented herself to him “all in white…[with] white flowers in her hair” (Dickens 52) and appears “awful mad.” Perhaps most disturbingly, Arthur asserts that Miss Havisham’s ghost possesses a bleeding heart and has assured Arthur that he has broken it and caused its bleeding.

Compeyson replies to Arthur’s story by flippantly calling him a fool. “[D]on’t you know she’s got a living body?” (Dickens 52) he says, demanding that his wife go comfort Arthur and investigate the validity of the ghost’s presence. While Compeyson’s wife is trying to assuage Arthur’s fear, Arthur perceives the “ghost” of Miss Havisham yet again and begs her not to touch him with the ominous shroud she carries and resists her attempts to lift him up. However, the “ghost” of the jaded woman ultimately succeeds, as Magwitch recalls seeing Arthur lift himself up and die immediately after.

Thus, an interesting and complex parallel is drawn between the two novels. This parallel poses multiple questions that could be answered in a variety of ways. On one hand, both novels seem to be assigning agency to the deceased by citing instances of their intervention. However, Wuthering Heights takes care to grant validity to the phantoms, as they are only perceived by a character, the young boy, who himself does not bear the bias that the novel’s other narrators, Lockwood and Nelly, bear. On the other hand, Great Expectations creates a specter of a living soul. As Compeyson insensitively but correctly states, Miss Havisham is still living and therefore likely could not haunt Arthur without entering the premises physically. Indeed, Miss Havisham’s haunting of Arthur could be perceived as a figment of Arthur’s imagination and as a manifestation of his guilt over his actions. Furthermore, Arthur’s encounter with Miss Havisham’s ghost could be attributed to the state of decline that Magwitch perceives him to occupy.

Unlike Wuthering Heights, the legitimacy, or at least, the agency, of ghosts is questioned through the skepticism of Compeyson and through the apparent hand Arthur had in his own destruction, as Magwitch sees Arthur lift himself before passing away. However, in questioning the legitimacy of Miss Havisham’s ghost, another question is posed by Dickens. Is it possible that Miss Havisham, though living, was indeed haunting Arthur? It is undeniable that, due to the tragedy she experienced, Miss Havisham’s life is exceedingly extraordinary. Perhaps, somehow it is Miss Havisham’s broken and therefore “dead” heart that haunts Arthur.

It is in this way that both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations validate the existence of ghosts that arguably exist as the outcomes of love and that demonstrate love’s omnipotence. Just as Catherine and Heathcliff’s love was powerful enough to unite them in an active afterlife, Miss Havisham’s heartbreak was powerful enough to allow her to physically haunt Arthur, despite her being still alive.

Great Expectations for Catherine and Pip

In both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations, the audience sees the novels’ respective protagonists, Catherine and Pip, rise from “obscurity” and “coarseness” to higher social stations. For Catherine, this advancement in social standing occurs as a result of her marriage to Linton, a man she does not truly love. Catherine recognizes that as Mrs. Linton she will be rich, proud of her husband, and “the greatest woman of the neighborhood.” These reasons display the more selfish aspects of Catherine’s characterization and perhaps demonstrate the inherent selfishness of desiring to rise in society’s ranks in the name of pride and pride only. However, Catherine later reveals that her motive for marrying Linton is not entirely selfish, as her decision is not merely informed by her pridefulness and desire to be wealthy and highly esteemed. Rather, in marrying Linton, Catherine endeavors to raise not only herself from her coarse and disenfranchised situation at Wuthering Heights but seeks to lift Heathcliff from the same conditions, as well. Indeed, Catherine tells Nelly that her marriage with Linton will free Heathcliff from her “brother’s power” and that, if she were to marry Heathcliff instead of Linton, they would be beggars. Catherine has great expectations, for herself and Heathcliff, and is willing to sacrifice her own happiness and integrity in order to ensure that the two will eventually meet the great expectations she establishes for them. Upon the novel’s close, it appears that Catherine’s great expectations have been met, though the reader must wonder: at what cost? While Catherine was able to experience an ephemeral moment as “the greatest woman of the neighborhood” and while Heathcliff rose out from under Hindley’s thumb, the two ultimately die tragically. However, they are reunited in death and freed from the societal constricts and plots that initially separated them.

Pip also creates great expectations for himself, though he believes that these great expectations have been assigned to him. While Pip is assigned a guardian and an anonymous sponsor who supports his transformation into a gentleman, Pip truly begins this transformation far earlier in the novel, when Estella first chastises him for his coarseness and thick boots. After this moment, Pip begins to resent his humble upbringing and seeks to become a gentleman, instead of a blacksmith, despite being apprenticed to Joe. Thus, Pip sets great expectations for himself and begins to distance himself emotionally from those he perceives as unrefined, such as Joe and Biddy, who nevertheless love him fiercely. Pip ultimately, through the prodding of his guardianship and sponsorship, sets off for London to formally begin his training as a gentleman. Since the novel is told from the perspective of an older Pip, there is a fair amount of reflection embedded within the novel, thus, the reader is privy to some of Pip’s regrets regarding his behavior and his establishment and pursuit of his great expectations. Indeed, there is a sense of regret imbued within each of these reflections, particularly those surrounding Pip’s treatment of Joe and Biddy.

Thus, both Catherine and Pip illustrate the danger of great expectations. Though both characters sought to improve their social situations, their motives were in part selfish, and while one might consider their desire to raise their social standings as a byproduct of an unjust, hierarchical society, the benefits of their social improvement are ultimately offset by the loss, however temporary, of loved ones that Catherine and Pip both experience. Indeed, Catherine, in marrying Linton, inadvertently sends Heathcliff away for many years and sacrifices what might have been a happy, albeit poor, life with her soulmate for a brief, though comfortable one with Linton. While I have not yet completed Great Expectations and cannot know how Pip’s relationships with Joe and Biddy will turn out, I know that Pip does not intend to visit either during his time home, choosing to spend the entire trip with Estella, instead. Perhaps Pip will succeed where Catherine failed and recognize that true love reaps more benefits than the great expectations of rising in a flimsy society, itself built on unjust principles.

Dust and Time in “In Memoriam” and “Great Expectations”

While reading the beginning of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, I experienced a fair amount of anticipation with regards to meeting the infamously eccentric character, Miss Havisham. I knew that Miss Havisham would be dressed in her signature yellowed, grandiose gown since, when I was younger, my grandmother gave my brother a copy of Great Expectations that portrayed Miss Havisham and her interesting choice of dress on the cover. Indeed, when Pip first meets the iconic woman, he is confounded by her appearance and by the state in which the room she occupies is in. According to Pip, Miss Havisham is clad in all “satins, and lace, and silks” (Dickens 18) with white shoes, a fine assortment of jewels, a veil, and wears flowers in her hair. However, Pip also observes that all of these fine objects have either faded to yellow or have withered, as is the case with the flowers in Miss Havisham’s hair and Miss Havisham herself. Additionally, Pip notices that Miss Havisham only wears one shoe and that she has never worn the other, which rests on the table. As evidence of this lack of use, Miss Havisham’s stocking on her unshoed foot is worn away.

Prior to making these observations, Pip informs his audience that the clock and the watch in the room are permanently stopped at the particular time of “twenty minutes to nine.” Thus, Pip muses that, though time seems to have stopped for Miss Havisham, the effects of time, the yellowing of her clothes, the withering of her flowers, have persisted. Pip thinks to himself that Miss Havisham would crumble to dust with the “admission of natural light,” as he has heard to be the case with recently discovered ancient corpses. The word “dust” and the juxtaposition between Miss Havisham’s appearance and the clock and watch’s establishment of frozen time both cause me to think back to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, In Memoriam. The epic elegy mentions the word “dust” 18 times and it is often used to reflect themes of decay, loss, insignificance, and the relentless passage of time. The word “dust” seems to be serving a similar purpose in Great Expectations, as well. Indeed, the mention of “dust” demonstrates the effects and amount of time that has ravaged Miss Havisham’s outer appearance, presumably against her will, as the reader may be lead to assume that she has forcibly stopped time for the room’s clock and her own watch.

Furthermore, both Tennyson and Miss Havisham seem to be mourning the passage of time. In the case of Tennyson, it is known that In Memoriam discusses the tragic loss of Tennyson’s dear friend. The elegy laments the fact that Tennyson’s grief inevitably ebbs and flows, grows and fades, across the span of many Christmasses, in turn, causing Tennyson much frustration and chagrin. One can similarly assume then that Miss Havisham’s desire to stop time is spurred by a tragic incident from her past. However, as observed through Tennyson’s repetition of the word “dust” and Pip’s hyperbole that one beam of the sun would turn Miss Havisham to dust, the passage of time ultimately appears to “win” over Tennyson’s and Miss Havisham’s desire to preserve the memory of the past and what they have each presumably lost.

Polyptoton in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”

According to Erik Gray in his essay, “Polyptoton in In Memoriam: Evolution, Speculation, Elegy” Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “In Memoriam,” utilizes an interesting and particular scheme of repetition that is known as “polyptoton.” Gray defines polyptoton as the opposite of rhyme. Rather than featuring word endings that are alike to antecedent word endings within a stanza, polyptoton changes the word ending but leaves the beginning of the word intact. An example of polyptoton would be a couplet wherein one line ends with the word “silent” and the preceding line ends with the word “silence.” Gray claims that more than half of In Memoriam contains polyptoton and concludes that Tennyson’s continual use of polyptoton indicates its necessity to In Memoriam, insofar as that the poem would not be able to produce the same effect in readers without the presence of polyptoton. Moreover, Gray argues that the trope of polyptoton plays multiple roles in Tennyson’s elegy, particularly, it presents and supports the poem’s central philosophical claims and brings the elegy’s consolatory strategies to light. In particular, Gray argues Tennyson’s use of polyptoton serves two primary functions in In Memoriam: the first is to symbolically reflect evolution and the second is to give a new insight into the role of elegies.

 In order to support his claims, Gray first provides background on the trope of polyptoton in the literary canon. Gray argues that it is Virgil’s fifth eclogue that primarily influenced Tennyson’s In Memoriam, as it too depends upon the fundamental belief that death is not an end but merely a change. Gray supposes that this focus on death is echoed by the fact that the words Tennyson typically uses in his polyptotons are “life” and “death.” This focus also serves to bring about Gray’s first proposed role of polyptoton which is to bring about the motif of evolution. Polyptoton, by definition, means a change. Therefore, it can be said that Tennyson’s extensive use of polyptoton causes his work to mirror evolution itself. Gray further argues that In Memoriam presents many images that demonstrate both decline and gradual improvement and that it lends more focus to the latter, as is exemplified by Tennyson’s persistent polyptotons that transform “high” to “higher,” which at first serves to represent decline, then later represents gradual improvement and the celebration of such improvement. In the sections that feature both positive and negative forms of evolution, Gray states that polyptoton is used to demonstrate the transformations occurring within the elegy. 

Additionally, Gray postulates that polyptoton serves a second purpose: speculation. When using the term “speculation,” Gray means to say that Tennyson uses  polyptoton to show “varying ideas about a single theme.” Gray cites poems 30, 78, and 105 in explaining this; he notes that, although all three begin with the identical theme of Christmas, each poem progresses differently because the speaker’s outlook on Christmas changes within each poem. Gray then brings in Peter M. Sack’s theory that “one of the fundamental conventions of elegy is to divide the lament among multiple speakers, fragmenting and multiplying the mourner’s voice.” From this, he concludes that the repetition of Christmas serves as a sort of polyptoton that allows Tennyson to reimagine grief and transfigure it by dispersing it among many speculations of grief that are each supposed in separate reiterations of successive Christmasses. Thus, Gray’s argument overall serves to demonstrate Tennyson’s use of polyptoton towards the end of creating a successful elegy that aims to alleviate the effects of grief by exemplifying a gradual and positive evolution out of grief, as well as a speculative endeavor to fragment grief and thereby reimagine it such that the burden of loss can be leavened. 

The Life and Ideologies of Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus was an influential English economist who began his career as a demographer, studying the ebbs and flows of the English population. Eventually, Malthus entered the field of economics in opposition to Adam Smith, another economist who developed the idea of the “invisible hand” and hugely supported the free market system. Smith is commonly considered the “Father of Capitalism”, and his views were incredibly popular, most likely due to their portrayal of economics in a predominantly optimistic light. The reactionary ideas of Malthus and other more pessimistic economists were not nearly as well received by the Victorian public. Indeed, Malthus’ views on economics and the world’s population, as expressed in “The Principles of Population,” were extremely dismal. Malthus claimed that population growth was not an “unmitigated blessing” that would lead to further prosperity for all, as many utopian utilitarians believed. Instead, he argued that the population was growing too rapidly, at a geometric rate that far exceeded the arithmetic production rate of the food supply. In order to counteract the issue of overpopulation and lack of food supply, Malthus posited two ways to “check” populations: “primary checks”, which decreased birth rates, and “positive checks”, which increased death rates. Examples of primary checks include moral restraint, late marriages, birth control, and population caps. Positive checks include certain forces, such as famine, war, and disease, and would be encouraged when primary checks proved ineffective. 

Notably, Malthus had a lack of faith that primary checks could work on the impoverished population of Victorian England as they were morally inept and therefore impenetrable to the idea of moral restraints. Here, Malthus’ views begin to align with those of Herbert Spencer’s idea of “survival of the fittest”. Malthus believed that withholding resources like medicine, food, and education from the poor would eliminate them, thereby solving the resources crises. Malthus held that to redistribute money from the cultural elite to the poor, i.e. the socio-economic group that Malthus viewed as “less fit”, would thereby deprive the world of culture. Malthus believed that this would be best for all members of society, even the poor themselves, as he believed that their existence under the poverty line caused both themselves and the members of the upper-class misery. Additionally, many writers have commented upon the manner in which Malthus’ ideas impacted those of Charles Darwin. The author of “Henry George on Thomas Robert Malthus: Abundance vs. Scarcity,” Jim Horner, claims that Darwin “applied the Malthusian struggle between population and subsistence to the entire plant and animal kingdom.” (600)

Malthus did not hesitate to apply his own theories to events that occurred in England during his lifetime. For example, Malthus engaged in an intense debate with another British economist, David Ricardo, over the Corn Laws that increased the grain tariff in England. Malthus, in his Observations on the Corn Laws, considered the pros and cons of the tariff and ultimately decided that they protected the health of England’s agriculture. However, these Corn Laws produced a great deal of unrest in England for many working-class individuals since the Corn Laws primarily supported the landed gentry of England and effectively increased their otherwise dwindling political powers.

Malthus’ own life and bias should be addressed in order to fully understand his ideology. Malthus was born into the landed aristocracy of England, though, it is interesting to note that he was the second son in his family, therefore making him unable to inherit his father’s land. Indeed, some scholars argue that this facet of Malthus’ life spawned his attitude towards the poor and that many of Malthus’ theories were designed to preserve the power of the landed gentry that was itself gained from the socio-economic inequalities of the time. 

Chambers, Babbage, Lovelace, and the Importance of Models

While reading Robert Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, I was surprised to see the name of Charles Babbage embedded within the text and was even more surprised to see Chambers quote and employ Babbage’s work in order to support his own ideas of natural creation through transmutation. While grappling with exactly how and why one species developed from another, Chambers invites his readers to consider “an illustration of natural law… brought forward by [Babbage] in his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise” (7) that is exemplified through Babbage’s calculating machine. Babbage’s calculating machine, moved by a weight, displays a sequence of natural numbers “each of which exceeds its immediate antecedent by unity.” (Chambers, 7) Babbage, as reported by Chambers, asks his own readers whether or not they think that the sequence will continue in the same way and if they believe themselves to be acquainted with the law of Babbage’s machine. Babbage claims that many of his readers will respond in the affirmative to his two questions. However, at a certain point, the law of the machine will shift and the numbers will increase by greater unity and follow the series of triangular numbers, a pattern that will, in turn, be replaced by yet another series.

Furthermore, Chambers believed that Babbage’s calculating machine was an excellent model for his own thinking regarding the transmutation of species, as is shown through his concluding remarks. He states that “Mr. Babbage’s illustration powerfully suggests that this ordinary procedure (transmutation) may be subordinate to a higher law which only permits it for a time, and in proper season interrupts and changes it.” (Chambers 7) It is through such logic that Chambers not only models his own thinking regarding the creation of species through transmutation but also accounts for the lack of intuition and accessibility that surrounded the idea of evolution for many individuals at the time.

Additionally, Chambers’ mention of Babbage immediately made me think back to one of Babbage’s most esteemed contemporaries, Ada Lovelace. Much like Chambers, Lovelace also displayed a fondness for and dependency on models. Many letters exist between Lovelace and her tutors wherein Lovelace asks about the existence and availability of certain models through which she might come to better understand corresponding mathematical principles. While Lovelace was mocked in certain biographies for her need for models, her use of models allowed her to reach dazzling and beautiful conclusions regarding mathematical concepts. Perhaps it was Lovelace’s love of models that led her to not only develop the precursors to modern-day computer science but to write about math and science in a poetically spiritual, yet tangible manner, as well. Indeed, Lovelace, by transforming what some may refer to as “unfeeling” subjects into warm and ethereal poetic entities, was arguably able to better the understanding of math and science for many individuals who perhaps once found such topics inaccessible.

Finally, Chambers and Lovelace both demonstrate the importance of models when it comes to producing understanding. Just as Lovelace’s view of math and science was able to at once mystify, explain, and “soften” said subjects for others, Chambers’ use of Babbage’s model is arguably responsible for the popularity and praise that Chambers’ book received within Victorian England. For while his ideas were radical, his use of a model certainly provided readers with a solid base to which they could cling while being confronted with new ideas, thereby “softening” the idea of evolution for many.

The Illusion of Time

Something that has always fascinated me about Wuthering Heights is the strange, all-consuming cycle that rages across generations; wrecking one entirely and nearly destroying the second. This cycle’s presence within the narrative of Brontë’s novel is cemented by the repetition of names and the persisting antagonistic relationships between Earnshaws, Lintons, and Heathcliffs. Indeed, once Catherine dies, her role is filled by her daughter, Catherine, who bears the last name Linton, who, in turn, falls in “love” with Linton Heathcliff, himself more reminiscent of his given name rather than his surname. At the same time, an Earnshaw, Hareton, begins to pursue a Linton, Catherine. The actions of this second generation eerily parallel the destructive decisions made by their predecessors and create a suffocatingly cyclical narrative experience for readers of the novel. This perception of time, crafted by Brontë, is arguably a pessimistic one, for it seems to cede that despite the passage of time, nothing really ever changes. While Wuthering Heights appears to end with a glimmer of hope as Catherine and Hareton enter a seemingly stable relationship, a Linton is still paired with an Earnshaw, a recipe that the reader knows is ultimately one for disaster.

This cyclical and cynical view on time exists in conversation and in tension with Thomas Carlyle’s perception of time as is espoused in his work, “Natural Supernaturalism.” Carlyle first muses that time is an illusion, a stance that aligns with what Brontë seems to be arguing within her novel. Carlyle goes on to advocate for a more positive perception of time and urges his readers to “pierce through the Time-element” and “glance the Eternal.” He also proposes that despite distinctions between past and future they both “are” and are therefore a part of the present, a part of the “Everlasting NOW.” This idea is compatible with Brontë’s as her depiction of a relentless cycle that does not change, grow, or decline linearly also essentially collapses past, present, and future. However, the lens with which Carlyle views this collapse of time is far more positive, as he believes that this is the way in which his readers will be able to glance not only the Eternal but God, as well. Brontë, on the other hand, seems to condense time into one stagnant cycle in order to present her readers with some grim truth concerning human nature. Thus, while both Carlyle and Brontë are proponents of atypical and compressed perceptions of time, they each are capable of producing different sensations for their readers that are respectively optimistic and disillusioned.