Author Archives: Emily Tsoi

Connecting the Experiences of Women in Victorian Literature

Project by Group 2- Logan Carpenter, Hayley Jones, John Serbalik, and Emily Tsoi

Blog Post Written By Emily Tsoi and Hayley Jones

Process and Challenges Faced in Creating the Project:

When we were first assigned this project, we initially ran into some trouble as there were many topics we were interested in, but could not decide on one. We first thought of creating a timeline about Wuthering Heights, but then realized we had nothing to connect it to as Wuthering Heights takes place in the early part of the Victorian period so it would be difficult to connect it to other works we have read. We then decided to go in a different direction by looking at London and how it was used as a human space across the texts. We quickly realized, however, that it would be difficult to make these connections as we were limited in the selection of texts containing London. We were stuck on where to go from there, but we were then shown what some of the other groups were working on and we were presented with the program, Kumu. We all instantly thought it was a great way to demonstrate connections across texts and were then inspired to look at some of the female characters we’ve encountered and how they all connect to various themes that we have looked at throughout the course.

When selecting characters we gravitated toward Catherine Earnshaw and Cathy Linton in Wuthering Heights, we initially had Nelly Dean on our list, but realized that it would be difficult to connect her to our themes as she is mostly narrating about other characters and there was not a whole lot of insight into how she personally experiences certain themes such as education. We also knew we wanted to include the female characters of Great Expectations, Estella, Miss Havisham, Biddy and Mrs. Joe as they all offer varying experiences across our chosen themes so we wanted to compare and contrast them with one another, but also with our other chosen characters. Finally, we also chose to include Judith Quixano from Reuben Sachs as she offered a different experience/perspective from the other chosen characters because she is Jewish, so we wanted to see how similar or how different she is from the other characters.

When choosing our themes we picked out what we saw as being most relevant in each of our texts according to what we had discussed in past class discussions of our literature. We picked Education, Social Class, Marriage/Love, Religion, and Defying Authority/Societal Norms. Now, as aforementioned we ran into some difficulties connecting every chosen character to each of our themes and so for some of the characters we did not make any connection to a theme, for example, it was difficult to connect Estella or Miss Havisham to Education as there is not really any mention of it in Great Expectations. In addition, we also ran into some difficulties making connections from one character to another through certain themes and so for a few of the characters, we did not make any through some of the themes. For example, it was difficult to make a direct connection from Judith to any other character through Education as she did not have access to education/books in the way that the Catherines or Biddy do.

In order to organize our thoughts we created a Google Doc as we thought it would be easiest to get all of our thoughts down first before inputting it into the Kumu. This would make it easier for us to edit/revise. We then met and inputted all of the information we found into the Kumu which shaped out to be a great medium to see these connections as we had originally thought.

The Project:

Here is the link to our actual project on Kumu:

Through our project you can visually see the various connections that we made between characters and themes in addition to connections made among characters.

How to Use the Project:

When you open our project, you will see there is a general map overview containing our explanation of our project along with any relevant source information. Further, you will see a legend in the bottom left of our map. There you will find what each color node (bubble) or edge (line that draws a connection between the nodes) represents. For example, the purple nodes represent a character and a red edge represents a connection between a character and theme (we could not figure out how to delete the bottom two items in the legend so pretend they are not there). We thought Kumu would be an excellent medium to present these connections as you can visually see these connections through the edges connecting to the nodes.

In order to navigate our project all you need to do is simply click on whichever node or edge you would like to look at and then read our thoughts in the window that will pop up on the left hand side of the screen where the map overview was.

Our connections between characters and the selected themes will present you with textual analysis of how that particular character connects to that theme while our connections between characters will present you with our explanation as to how the two characters connect through that particular theme.

Here is an in-depth look at how one might use the project:

If I wanted to look at Catherine Earnshaw, I would click on her node (circled in the image below). Once I have clicked on her node, a box will pop up with a brief character biography explaining who she is and what work of literature she derives from.

As you can see there are multiple edges (lines) connecting her to various other nodes. Let’s say I was curious about what the blue connection at the top says (in the image above, the red arrow is pointing to it). According to the legend in the lower left of the map, the blue line represents the “Characters Connection Through Education”. In order to view it, I would simply just click on it.

After clicking on it, this box on the left side of the screen would pop up with the explanation of the connection we made between Catherine Earnshaw and Cathy Linton through Education.

To view another connection, I would simply click on another edge/line and that connection would pop up on the left side of the screen. We really liked this medium of presenting connections because of its’ simplicity to navigate from connection to connection, something you would not easily get through a website platform that we were originally thinking about.

Overall Thoughts On Our Project:

Overall, this project helped us see that even though it seems like the literature we read this semester ranged over such a vast amount of time during the Victorian era (nearly one hundred years from the time Wuthering Heights takes place to the time Reuben Sachs was published), took place in different parts of England, and focused on women from varying backgrounds, the female characters we have studied are all connected in some way to the central themes we have been analyzing in class. By no means is any woman’s experience the same as another’s, but it helped us to see that no matter how different these women may seem, they share similar experiences with one another.

Reflecting on Victorian Connexions

In my first blog post titled “What I Hope to Learn About Victorian Literature”, I discussed how I was interested in learning about how Victorian writers connected their lives and world around them to their writing.

After reading the wide range of works that Dr. Schacht had presented us with in the course, I feel as though that goal was fulfilled and I learned a lot of interesting things about the people and world of Victorian England through the literature.

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Thoughts on the Descriptions of London in Reuben Sachs

After reading the first half of Reuben Sachs, I was drawn to the descriptions of London as it brought me back to the discussion we had in class a few weeks ago while reading Great Expectations and Pip’s view on London as a human space.

In Reuben Sachs, the novel opens with Reuben’s sense of exhilaration to be back in London. The narrator says, “He was back again; back to the old, full, strenuous life which was so dear to him; to the din and rush and struggle of the London which he loved with a passion that had something of poetry in it” (Levy 10). Here we see that Reuben loves London.

This can be contrasted with his cousin Leo’s view on London. His view is described with, “Leo hated London almost as vehemently as his cousin loved it. It was the place, he said, which had succeeded better than any other in reducing life to a huge competitive examination. Its busy, characteristic streets, which Reuben regarded with an interest both passionate and affectionate, filled him with a dreary sensation of disgust and depression” (Levy 136).

I think that Pip’s view of London can most closely be aligned with Leo’s. Prior to arriving to London, Pip had great expectations for London in that he would become an affluent gentleman, but when he arrived he saw how dirty and crowded it was causing him to become disappointed. In addition, Leo’s view is also related to Pip in that Pip’s life was based on comparing himself to others which caused him to be disgusted in himself and his surroundings. 

Further, London was also described by the narrator in relation to the family with, “Born and bred in the very heart of nineteenth century London, belonging to an age of a city which has seen the throwing down of so many barriers, the leveling of so many distinctions of class, of caste, of race, of opinion, they had managed to retain the tribal characteristics, to live within the tribal pale to an extent which spoke worlds for the national conservatism” (Levy 102). They then describe how they went to Jewish schools, ate Jewish food and were raised with Jewish traditions and prejudice, only making friends within their race as having friends outside of their “tribal barrier” was discouraged by authorities in their community. It seems as though the Jewish community has isolated themself from the rest of London, only associating with one another.

Is Leo’s hatred for London attributed to this and his rejection of Jewish traditions that he seems to be demonstrating thus far in the novel?

Experiences Help Shape Our Identities

In Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, I found paragraph 26 to be the most interesting. Here Wilde writes about how people had advised him to forget his past when he entered prison and is now being advised to forget prison when he is released. Wilde describes how if he did this it would be disgraceful as he would be forgetting all of the different experiences that had made him who he had become. He says, “To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul” (Par. 26).

I thought this could be related to Pip’s experiences in Great Expectations as he tried to live up to his expectations in becoming a gentleman, but retrospectively admits that it did not go as he had intended. Although nobody directly told him to forget his past and where he came from young Pip felt as though he had to because he saw his life there with Joe at the forge as an embarrassment after being told by Estella that he was coarse and common. Narrator Pip admits that this was wrong and he is ashamed of the way in which he treated the people who mattered most to him in life.

Through Pip retrospectively narrating his life from childhood to present, it is demonstrated how Pip is trying not to forget all of the experiences that made him who he is now. Throughout the narration as exemplified above, narrator Pip indicates where he may have gone wrong in life and is demonstrating that he has learned from these experiences. Your experiences make you who you are whether they are good or bad. It is up to you to learn from them and better yourself as a result.

Pip’s Happiness As A Gentleman

Pip’s journey toward becoming a gentleman is starting to remind me of John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography about happiness.

In paragraph 2 Mill talks about how he had set his whole life and happiness around a distant idea, but suddenly one day he realized that it wouldn’t bring him great happiness because he wasn’t happy in the present. He asked himself, “Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?” He then describes his reaction to this by saying, “And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, “No!” At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end”.

I’m starting to see this in Pip’s character as he is reflecting on his past. Pip has constructed his life around the idea of becoming a gentleman and marrying Estella, making it seem as though that will bring him great happiness in life and it’s the end goal for him, but as he is slowly realizing, he’s missing out on many things in life during this process and we as readers really start to see this turn when he finds out that it was not Miss Havisham who was his benefactor, but the convict, Magwitch.

When he tells Estella that he loves her to find out that she is marrying Drummle is a pivotal point for Pip as marrying her was in Pip’s end plan for the future/happiness. Estella tells him that he’ll forget him in a week and Pip replies by saying, “Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself” showing that he built his life around her.

Pip is realizing that he isn’t getting any happiness/gratification out of the present. He has realized how terrible he has treated people who truly care about him like Joe and Biddy and he even admits to Miss Havisham that he wished he had never left the village he came from.

It’s also interesting with drawing comparisons between Mill and Pip in that they are both writing/narrating reflectively of their transformations so it makes me wonder how Pip’s story will end. Will he return back to Joe and Biddy?

Miss Havisham and Heathcliff

Now that we know a little bit more about Miss Havisham and her motives, I’m noticing how similar she is to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights in terms of motives, which for both of them is revenge.

They are both caught in the past. Miss Havisham stopped all her clocks, still has her wedding dress and cake, and hasn’t left Satis House since she was left by her fiance. Heathcliff is still in the past because he’s so caught up in what could have been with Catherine. He doesn’t move on from her, he never really makes any friends and is pretty much alone at Wuthering Heights as a result similarly to Miss Havisham.

The two of them also both use children as a means to get their revenge. Miss Havisham adopts Estella to seek revenge on men as Pip is informed in Chapter 22. We see this through how she treats Pip when he comes to play by her asking if he finds Estella pretty and whispering to Estella to “Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!”. Meanwhile Heathcliff treats Hareton the way that Hindley treated him- uneducated and as a servant. He also then brings his son, Linton, to Wuthering Heights as a way to inherit Edgar Linton’s estate through his marriage to Cathy.

I’m interested in seeing how Miss Havisham’s plot line ends in comparison to Heathcliff’s.

Orphans in Victorian Literature

While reading the first several chapters of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, I noticed a handful of connections to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, but the one I’m most interested in so far is between the characters Pip of Great Expectations and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

The two of them seem similar so far as they were both orphans, although Pip gets to live with his sister and Heathcliff was taken in by Mr. Earnshaw who as far as we are aware, is unrelated to him. We also see how they are both pressed by social class. Heathcliff was constantly ridiculed because of his skin color, hair color and treated as a member of the lower class while Pip and his family are also members of the lower class.

In both novels, the reader sees how aware these characters are of their standing and how they make an effort to change this. In Wuthering Heights after Heathcliff overhears Catherine say that it would degrade her if she married him, he runs away and is gone for three years. During this time he underwent change and returns almost as a different person as Nelly doesn’t even recognize him when he returns. It is never explained where Heathcliff was, what he was doing, how he made money, etc. However with Great Expectations, so far we are seeing the beginning of what seems to be Pip’s efforts toward rising in his social standing. In the later chapters of today’s assigned reading we see Pip’s awareness to his social class after his meeting with Miss Havisham and Estella. When he returns from his time there, he confesses to Joe that he wished he was not common. He also lists things he wished he did not have to face such as “I wish you hadn’t taught me to call Knaves at cards, Jacks; and I wish my boots weren’t thick nor my hands so coarse”. In Chapter 10 we then see Pip begin his efforts toward becoming uncommon by seeking the help of Biddy to teach him things.

I’m interested in seeing how Pip and Heathcliff compare as we continue reading Great Expectations.

Also, I’m beginning to wonder about the usage of orphans in Victorian literature. In high school I remember reading Silas Marner and A Tale of Two Cities and there were orphans in those novels. Although I haven’t read them yet, I believe Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist are also both about orphans? I wonder why this was such a popular thing to write about at the time and what this says about Victorian England historically.

Adaptation and Survival in Wuthering Heights

In Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the reader sees that by the end of the novel the only two characters of the Earnshaw/Linton family line left alive are Cathy and Hareton. All of their predecessors- Hindley, Catherine, Edgar, Isabella, and Linton all died and died quite early on in their lives. As we talked about in class this could be attributed to various illnesses during the time, but could this also be read as them dying because they were unable to adapt to live among each other? Were Cathy and Hareton being the only ones to survive and get a happy ending because they learned to evolve from their predecessors and co-adapt with one another?

Cathy and Hareton were both best fit to survive because they developed characteristics and skills to co-exist with one another. Hindley was never able to because he had always felt threatened by Heathcliff from the moment he came to live with them as children because his father liked him more. Catherine was never able to adapt to the idea of entering a lower social status in being married to Heathcliff as she was quite selfish and so she died unhappily while being married to Edgar. Edgar was never able to adapt to living among Heathcliff because he also felt threatened by him and saw him as an enemy, knowing how Catherine felt about him. Isabella was not able to co-exist with Heathcliff because he abused her. Also she had unhealthy relationships with her brother and Catherine before marrying Heathcliff. To add we also see Linton Heathcliff was not able to survive because he was weak from the beginning and never able to recover from that. He was also terrified of Heathcliff from the moment he met him and never adapted to living with him. However, Cathy and Hareton both live with Heathcliff for an extended amount of time and outlive him unlike their predecessors. Cathy is much kinder and less selfish than her mother and is able to use with forming an actual healthy relationship with Hareton. Hareton was also different from his predecessors in that he was able to form an actual, somewhat healthy relationship with Heathcliff. When Heathcliff died, he was the only one to mourn him because he looked to him as a father.

Overall the ending to Wuthering Heights left me satisfied as Hareton and Cathy prove that there is hope for the next generation to form healthy relationships among one another unlike their predecessors.

Health in Victorian England

As requested in class on Tuesday, we looked at a couple of articles focusing on health in Victorian England. As we know after reading Wuthering Heights, many people were dying off during this time period. In fact, almost all of the characters die within a short time period and at young ages: Mrs. Earnshaw, Mr. Earnshaw, Frances(18), Mr. and Mrs. Linton, Catherine(18), Hindley(27), Isabella(31), Edgar(39), Linton(17), and Heathcliff(37). Along with the rest of the class, we were wondering what caused all of these individuals to die so early in life. In an article we found called “Health and Hygiene in the Nineteenth Century” containing passages from Bruce Haley’s book called The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture, we found that there were three waves of contagious diseases circulating during the Victorian Era. The first epidemic was from 1831-1833 and was initiated by Cholera, a disease caused by eating food or water contaminated with bacteria which can lead to dehydration and death. It was referred to as “monstrous” because it was very frightening and affected so many people. Actually, it mainly affected the poorer neighborhoods because they were less likely to have sanitary food and water and they had drainage problems that flooded towns and lead to mold and fungi growth. As seen in “Grounding Miasma, or Anticipating the Germ Theory of Disease in Victorian Cholera Satire” by Wietske Smeele, people were skeptical of where the illness derived from. People believed in the miasma theory which is that illness is caused by foul air. A physician by the name of John Snow would be a pioneer in tracing the cause of cholera to contaminated water. The second epidemic from 1836-1842 was known as Typhus which was spread by lice, ticks, mites, and fleas during wars and famines. It had a high mortality rate and was just as rampant as smallpox. Finally, the last wave of epidemic was from 1842-1846. During this time frame, the railroads were starting to expand because of increased wage levels and better standard living. As a result, workers were moving into the cities and diseases often came along with them. The most common was Typhoid, which is basically Salmonella. As a result of this massive wave of illness, there was a myth that spread saying that one disease brought on another. As Jan Marsh states in “Health and Medicine in the 19th Century”, treatments for diseases in the early Victorian era often relied on coastal air, bleeding, leaching, laxatives and prayer. The popular belief was that in order to rid the body of a disease, the body had to be purified, and these were means of doing so. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that doctors and scientists began recognizing the legitimate public health issues that factored into these diseases, and learned how to begin to treat them effectively. This was a turning point, and Europe began to see new scientific research and medical technological developments and the medical industry began growing faster than ever before. However, according to The Registrar General, life expectancy during the Victorian Era ranged from 15-45. This can be compared to the ages of the characters from Wuthering Heights and we can infer that the deaths of these individuals were most likely caused by one of the three aforementioned epidemics.

Heathcliff’s Obsession with Catherine

This was the first time I read Wuthering Heights and so I went in not really having an idea of what it was about. Now that I have finished it, if I could summarize it in three words I would say ”abuse and obsession” which is what Heathcliff’s character demonstrates throughout Emily Bronte’s novel. Heathcliff’s love for Catherine is so strong throughout the novel that I would call it an obsession. However, Catherine never fully commits to Heathcliff as she eventually marries Edgar to fulfill societal expectations. As the story continues, Heathcliff becomes so engrossed in getting revenge for the way in which he was separated from Catherine that he plots his whole life around it against the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Some of his actions include putting Hindley into debt so he can inherit Wuthering Heights, his marriage to Isabella to anger Edgar and devising a plan to have Linton and Cathy marry so he can take over Edgar’s property once he passes away. We further see Heathcliff’s obsession with Catherine when he tells Nelly that at Edgar’s burial he asked them to cut the lid off of Catherine’s coffin so that when he is buried they can both be facing each other.

Heathcliff’s obsession over Catherine reminded me of what John Stuart Mill says in his Autobiography. Mill says, “My course of study had led me to believe, that all mental and moral feelings and qualities, whether of a good or of a bad kind, were the results of association; that we love one thing, and hate another, take pleasure in one sort of action or contemplation, and pain in another sort, through the clinging of pleasurable or painful ideas to those things, from the effect of education or of experience”. Here Mill is explaining why humans are so opposed to change. We are accustomed to what we know that it is hard to accept change. Heathcliff was so used to having a free-spirited Catherine by his side growing up that when they were older, he was unable to accept that she has changed in order to fit society’s expectations for women.