The most interesting thing I learned this semester is the widespread effects of Darwin’s theory during the Victorian Era. While, of course I’ve known about Darwin’s theory, I’ve never quite known about the extent of the terrible negative impacts of his theory from people’s incorrect interpretations of his work. We see people take Darwin’s scientific discoveries and twist them to support their own in ways that were really dangerous. For example, Social Darwinism is the theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection. In the 20th century, this was used to justify political conservatism, imperialism and racism. While Darwin was very concerned with the environment and how it affects evolution, people concerned with Social Darwinism ignored environment and assumed that poor people and non-white races were born inherently inferior to other humans. People translated darwinism into economic terms with the idea that if the state stays out of the economy, the economy will thrive and humanity as a whole will improve; this was used in support of capitalism. In the 1880-90s, scientists started to discover how evolution worked and the concept of Eugenics emerged. This was used extensively by Hitler because he tried to use knowledge of heredity to create inferior view of Jews so that he could exterminate them. In America Eugenics also led to government forcing sterilization on people. We saw the negative effects of Darwin’s ideas in society in many of the readings throughout the semester. For example, in Reuben Sachs the negative perception of Jews is evident. We also talked about the extreme racism Dickens uses in his novels in his depiction of Jewish characters, like Fagan in Oliver Twist. Great Expectations, on the other hand, can be interpreted as Dickens’ push back against the concept of Social Darwinism. In the novel, we see Darwin deny that inherited genetic traits control a person with Pip’s character, for example. Brought up in a working class family, and related to his terrible sister, Pip is able to overcome his condition and become somebody that is educated,respected and kind. Needless to say, I am happy that Social Darwinism has been largely disproved so that groups of people are not oppressed.
The discrimination and marginalization of Jews in Victorian London described in this section is not surprising being that this was a time in which society worked to actively suppress groups based on criteria like social class and religion. As argued by Reuben, the Jewish people’s ability to prevail/succeed in English society despite discrimination and stereotypes shows the industry, power of endurance, self respect, etc. of the Jewish people. Leo disagrees with Reuben and insults the Jewish community calling them greedy, vain and power-hungry and points out the likelihood that the Jews will get absorbed by the English people. He doesn’t feel the same deeper connection that Reuben feels towards Judaism, instead he criticizes their materialism and vanity. I think that this discrepancy in opinion was interesting considering the Jew’s history of discrimination. I would assume that it would be rare to find a Jew in this society who would so outwardly speak against his own community. I think that Leo’s argument is reflective of the influence of Victorian Era society because of the secular nature of his argument and the concern with Western materialism. I feel that Leo’s view of Jews can be compared to Heathcliff’s character in Wuthering Heights because while he was oppressed because of his humble beginnings, he ended up becoming a vain, power hungry man. Wuthering Heights seems to criticize this type of materialistic behavior, given Heathcliff’s abusive and destructive nature. Throughout this section of Reuben Sachs, the Jewish community is often talked about as a tribe. It seems like many of these Jews in London, like Reuben, find meaning through their connection with their community. Reuben talks about their journey to freedom in society and the novel explains that this community almost exclusively spent time together. This reminds me of Pip’s relationship with Magwitch in Great Expectations because when they were both oppressed, they had each other to rely on and work together to get out of their situation. In this way, both texts shine a light on the importance of connections with other people when moving through an oppressive society.
In both of today’s readings shame is shown to be a result of the Victorian criminal justice system. In particular, “Ballad of Reading Gaol” reflects the huge role of shame in crime and punishment during this time period. The prison is said to be “built with bricks of shame,” the noose is described as “the rope of shame,” and the grave is the “pit of shame.” The poem describes the shameful way criminals are buried. The people are “eaten by teeth of flame” and then put in nameless graves. The poem reflects the inner turmoil of these prisoners in the lines, “And down the iron stair we tramped, Each from his separate Hell.” This poem makes it clear that Victorian society can be very toxic. Specifically, the justice system cripples people with shame leaving them unable to grow as people. Wilde writes, “and by all forgot, we rot and rot, with soul and body marred.” Shame is also a recurring theme in Great Expectations. We see Pip feel ashamed many times throughout the novel. Estella makes Pip feel shameful of his upbringing and social status by criticizing his rough hands and unrefined manners. This haunts Pip causing him to obsessively think about improving his social status. Pip also grapples with feeling ashamed of Joe. For example, when Joe visits Pip in London, Pip dreads Joes arrival and mentions that he is relieved that he won’t be meeting Drummel. Pip even feels ashamed when he thinks he will be killed by Orlick; he worries that his friends will think that he ditched them for his own sake. This shame keeps Pip stagnant; he is held back from developing as a person. For example, when he realizes that he must not feel shame for Joe by the end of the novel, Pip is set free, now able to evolve into a better person. It is well-known that Dickens did not approve of many aspects of Victorian society, including it’s brutal criminal justice system. “Ballad of Reading Gaol” depicts the justice system in a way that sheds light on the tendency of Victorian society to demonize, humiliate and degrade its citizens. Dickens uses shame in Great Expectations to reflect the harmful effects that society can have on its people. While society does this institutionally through the criminal justice system you see guilt and shame seep into daily life in these examples of Pip’s shame in Great Expectations. Whether in prison or not, people become stuck by their shame.
In Jessica A. Cambell’s “‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Great Expectations,” she compares Dickens’ Great Expectations to the 1740 version of La Belle et la Bête by Mme de Vileneuve. Cambell introduces this connection by explaining that Dickens’ writing frequently includes fairy tale motifs and allusions in his writing. She goes on to specifically explain that there are similarities in Beauty and the Beast due to the story’s “doubles, confused identities, intricate and surprising family relationships, and dream visions, in addition to the overall theme of the transformative properties of love and generosity.” Essentially, both stories share the moral: learn to see beyond appearances, because things and people are often quite different from what they seem. She addresses that there is a similar theme between both of the stories that things often do not turn out as expected. For instance, Pip learns about love through him slowly getting to know more about Magwitch, not through Estella. Additionally, she compares Magwitch to be the “beast” of the story, who Pip was initially afraid of, yet he ended up being his benefactor. She compares Pip to be the “beauty” and in this case it is the beauty, Pip, who is under a spell that he needs to be released from in order to transform into his true self. In both “Beauty and the Beast” and Great Expectations, characters frequently turn out to be something other than what they seem. One important lesson is that the change is not the person’s actual identity, but rather the perception people have of them. Much like the peoples perception of the Beast changes, so do Pip’s views on people. A symbol of change is the Beast’s castle, and Satis house. When Beauty enters the castle, it is supposed to alter her, but instead all inside are altered. While attempting to teach Miss Havisham sympathy, Pip alters the Satis house, and although he does not win over Estella, he has Miss. Havisham begging for forgiveness which is as dramatic as the physical transformation of the Beast. Unfortunately, it takes Pip most of the novel to learn that experiences shape a person, and even when people seem to be on different ends of the spectrum they are still connected, much like different classes living together in the same society. Learning to see more clearly does not simply mean replacing the old way of seeing with a new one; it means learning the lesson that your views are always subject to change. Seeing beyond appearances is key, because people and things are often not what they seem. Unlike Beauty and the Beast, this realization comes too late for the characters in Great Expectations. Miss Havisham learns sympathy too late to correct the pain she has inflicted on her children, and Pip sees the beauty in his Beast too late to save his life. The moral of both stories is that not all that exists is easily seen, and things are never as they seem.
In this section of Great Expectations, I was shocked to feel badly for Magwitch. While he is a criminal, it seems like Dickens makes readers feel pity for him. We get background information about Magwitch in Chapter 42 after Pip asks him about his history. Magwitch basically was raised poor and uneducated. When he was younger he was caught stealing food because he was starving and was sent to jail and since then he has been, “tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes” when he could and consistently in and out of jails. Magwitch shares, “‘May be said to live in jails, this boy.’ Then they looked at me, and I looked at them, and they measured my head, some on ’em,… and others on ’em giv me tracts what I couldn’t read, and made me speeches what I couldn’t understand.” It is clear that Wagwitch’s low social status and lack of education gives him a huge disadvantage in trying to stay out of prison. He is almost punished for being poor. We see this when Compeyson gets significantly less time in prison than Magwitch because he presented himself like a gentleman in court. This backstory on Magwitch on top of the fact that Pip now doesn’t know what will come of his own financial situation is reflective of the difficulty of escaping social class in this society. This reminds me of some of the poetry that we read at the beginning of the semester like “The Chimney Sweeper” and “England in 1819.” In “England in 1819,” the writer critiques the government for their poor treatment of the lower class in England. The poem goes, “Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, But leech-like to their fainting country cling.” As a result of this negligence toward this class of people, they are left to suffer and with no hope of escaping their poverty. Dickens also seems to be critiquing crime and punishment in England. He does so through his depiction of Magwitch and Pip’s unstable financial situation.
In chapters 20-29 of Great Expectations, readers discover that Miss Havisham once came very close to marrying a man that she loved deeply, but when it came time to marry, her fiance stood her up and stole her money. He had been scheming alongside Miss Havisham’s half-brother who did not have a good relationship with Miss Havisham or their father. Ever since, Miss Havisham has been heartbroken and bound to her house. Her heartbreak explains her strange behavior: her staying inside, eating alone, stopping the clocks, wearing her wedding dress and her obsession with bringing Pip and Estella together. I think this can be paralleled with the actions of certain men in Wuthering Heights. Specifically, I find Miss Havisham’s situation to be similar to Catherine’s situation in Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff, in an effort to gain property and power, decides to manipulate Isabella Linton into marrying him at which point things reach at breaking point at Thrushcross Grange. Linton comes home and demands that Heathcliff leaves and yells at Catherine for engaging with Heathcliff. As a result, Catherine decides to lock herself in her room, practically starve herself and drive herself mad. In both novels, there are men that do whatever it takes to gain money/power and women suffer as a result. Miss Havisham suffers from heartbreak at the hands of her ex-fiance while Catherine suffers from an inner turmoil as a result of her husband and Heathcliff’s abhorrence of each other. I thought that this parallel between the novels was interesting to note because it could be indicative of a shared viewpoint of the two authors. Perhaps the men’s aggressive pursuit of money/power could be evidence of these authors’ condemnation of capitalism. In further research about Dickens I found that while his novels weren’t politically subversive and he wasn’t explicitly anti-capitalism, he was known to expose the ills of Victorian Society in his writing. Bronte was known to have grown up in a non-conformist community and seems to show her outward rejection of Victorian society in multiple ways throughout Wuthering Heights.
As I read the first ten chapters of Great Expectations, one of the prominent themes that I noted was social class. Pip is an uneducated, rough looking, working class boy who is sent to the wealthy Miss Havisham’s home to “play.” The emergence of this drastic class difference between the two in the novel sheds light on this theme. Being that this is a common theme in Victorian Era literature, it makes sense that social class is also a prominent theme in Wuthering Heights. Already, Pip’s relationship with Estella reminds me of Hareton and Cathy’s relationship in Wuthering Heights. Firstly, similarly to Hareton, Pip was raised harshly and violently and without much love. Both Pip and Hareton share a coarse appearance; Pip’s appearance from living in a working class family and Hareton’s from his neglect throughout his childhood. Both are also uneducated as a result of their upbringings. When Pip meets Estella at Miss Havisham’s, she treats him very rudely. She makes it clear that she is disgusted by Pip because of his working class characteristics like his, “thick boots” and “rough hands.” We see a similar dynamic between Cathy and Hareton for a large portion of the novel. Cathy is cruel to Hareton; she makes fun of him for being uneducated, rough and foolish. Both Pip and Hareton are deeply affected and offended by Estella and Cathy’s treatment. As a result, they both decide to improve themselves. At the end of these first ten chapters, Pip, who was brought to tears by Estella’s hurtful words and actions, decides that he will change himself for the better; he wishes to not be “common” anymore. Thus, we see the emergence of the theme of self-improvement in the novel. Pip talks to Joe about his wish to be “uncommon” and asks Biddy to teach him what she knows from school. Similarly, in Wuthering Heights, after Cathy embarrasses and insults Hareton, he also sets out on a mission to improve himself. For example, Hareton reads books and acts kindly towards Cathy. Evidently, self-improvement is also a theme in Wuthering Heights. When it comes to Hareton’s pursuit of self-improvement in the novel, he ends up successfully educating himself with books and the help of Cathy and he seemingly becomes a happier and gentler person. By the end of the novel he even ends up happily together with Cathy. Based on these observations from Wuthering Heights, I am curious to see where Pip’s self-improvement efforts will take him. Will Pip and Estella will form a similar relationship as that of Hareton and Cathy? Or perhaps their rivalry will continue to grow. It will be interesting to see what message emerges about social class through Pip’s self-improvement and his relationship with Estella and Miss Havisham.
Edmunde Gosse’s Father and Son shows readers how intellectuals, scientists and the general public felt about these new scientific discoveries in the Victorian Era. This passage reveals the extreme faith and dependency on traditional religion that people experienced were before these revolutionary scientific discoveries. Readers get a strong sense of two very defined and unmoving perspectives developed as a result of these discoveries: one being the secular theory of evolution vs. religious belief in Genesis.
Based on what we’ve learned about Brontë’s life, it is clear that Brontë is writing from a perspective that is not based in the same kind of religious faith that so many Victorian people had. One could argue that Emily Bronte’s experience growing up with no real connection to religion is expressed in her writing through the Earnshaw family; the Earnshaw’s represent Bronte’s rejection of traditional religious practices. One reading of Wuthering Heights could be that the Lintons represent traditional religious practices while the Earnshaws represent passion, connection to nature, and an alternative approach to faith/spirituality. Additionally, Brontë often portrays the Lintons as weak, vain, and sickly.Thus, the novel can be interpreted as a claim by Bronte that the proper way to live is to reject religion and the traditional.
As you see in Father and Son, people felt very strongly about their religious views. This is why I find it intriguing that Wuthering Heights was accepted by many during the time. Based on people’s extreme reactions to scientific discoveries as shown in Father and Son, I would expect the religious majority of Victorian England to disprove of the sacreligious elements of Wuthering Heights. One possible explanation for the novel’s popularity/acceptance is that people might have accepted the book because while the Earnshaws/Bronte represents a different type of life–a more elemental life. Iit’s tolerable because it is ‘other.’ Bronte and her writing are ‘safe’ because it comes from this ‘other’ place up north
The final chapters of Wuthering Heights reminded me of Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus because of the prominence of themes like romanticism and the supernatural in both texts. In Sartor Resartus, while Carlyle uses religious language, he is not having a religious conversation. Instead, Carlyle argues that we can find a source of hope and meaning in some new way that isn’t established religion. This conversation comes from romanticism which entails a scholarly embrace of optimism, the recognition of beauty in the natural world and a shift to turning to nature for spiritual meaning and some kind of alternative source of optimism and home in nature. In Natural Supernaturalism, Carlyle reflects this view when he asserts that nature itself is supernatural. He asks, ‘isn’t it a miracle that I can just reach my hand forward?’ He claims that we need not look further than ourselves to find the spiritual. In the research that was presented in class last week, we learned that Emily Bronte was raised evangelical, yet growing up, she was unaware of this. Throughout her youth, Bronte was surrounded by a lot of non-conformist communities which resulted in her own rejection of religion. Instead she thought of determination and hard work to be her guiding forces. Catherine and Cathy specifically seem to be characters that represent the Bronte’s views the religious and spiritual; both women seem to represent a rejection of traditional religious belief. At one point Catherine explains that in her dream she hated heaven and wished to go back down to earth. She instead finds her source of hope/spirituality/understanding in the moors. With regards to Cathy, the contrast between her and Linton’s ‘perfect days in heaven’ seems to clearly represent the conflicting ideas about traditional religion that occurred throughout the Victorian Era. Linton is a symbol of adherence to traditional religious practice and Cathy a symbol of some other alternative source of meaning/hope. Finally, Bronte’s inclusion of ghosts and spirits in the novel can be interpreted as rejection of traditional religion and a belief in heaven. Perhaps Bronte argues here that instead of heaven and hell there’s a spirit world that has a life of its own; perhaps nature is alive with spirits.
This chapter of Wuthering Heights reminded me of the poems and short readings about the persecution of children during this era. In Wuthering Heights, as a result of the men’s attempt at gaining money, power and land, multiple children are displaced, mistreated and abused. For example, Hareton is barely raised, illiterate, and made to seem less worthy than Linton. Cathy is tricked and purposefully made to feel very guilty and at fault for Linton’s illness. Linton is taken from a loving home at Thrushcross Grange to a treacherous environment at Wuthering Heights so that Heathcliff can inherit Linton’s money. The children in the novel rarely have mothers, and if they do they die early in their lives–it seems like these mothers cannot survive in an environment so dominated by this toxic masculinity. This ill-treatment of children by men leads to many issues in the children including sickness, emotional problems, self-hatred, violence, etc. This mistreatment of children by men can be paralleled by the mistreatment of children by the government during the industrial revolution in England. As demonstrated by the poetry we previously read, during the Victorian Era the government turned a blind eye to the horrors of children’s participation in the dangers of chimney sweeping. In further research I found that typically chimney sweepers were either orphan boys chosen to be chimney sweeps or were sold by destitute parents to a chimney master. The young boys would work from early morning to night and were forced to climb through the chimneys in exchange for a place to sleep, food, and water. Similarly to multiple children in Wuthering Heights, chimney sweeper children are not loved by a family, raised, given attention or nurtured. Like the children in Wuthering Heights, these chimney sweeper children suffered greatly at the hands of their elders.