In my first blogpost, I wrote about being excited to learn about the characteristics of Victorian literature–the what that this literature is made up of. Before coming into this class, my idea of Victorian literature was that of only romance and trivial things that didn’t really interest me, things I couldn’t really connect with. After reading works by many different authors during this time period and on an array of topics, my opinion changed drastically. I realized that I had only been exposed to less than a fraction of all Victorian literature and that these works tackled some important and very interesting topics. We read works that dealt with religion, science, the portrayal of women, grief, identity, love, violence, and so much more. It’s honestly funny to me how much I thought I couldn’t connect to the topics in Victorian literature because now I see so many connections in my own life, the lives of those around me, and just humanity in general.
I think my favorite piece we read this semester was In Memoriam by Tennyson. I thoroughly enjoyed not only reading this poem about grief, remembrance, and the value of writing, but also our discussions in class. Seeing grief grappled with by someone else that lived many years before me made me feel less alone. That has been the most interesting and rewarding part of this class–seeing these feelings and topics discussed by people in the past to remind me that these feelings, not just grief, are universal and connecting. Victorian literature doesn’t have to be about silly romance and trivialities, it can be about the connecting feelings every human has. So while I did learn some of the characteristics that makes Victorian literature up like class, race, gender, progress, science vs religion, and identity, the one characteristic I was grateful to see was us–humans and their universal longings and feelings.
When I was reading Reuben Sachs, I noticed that when Amy Levy described the characters, she focused a lot on their physical appearances. She wrote about what they wore and gave descriptions of their faces with a certain emphasis on their eyes. The first description I noticed this in was that of Mrs. Sachs, Reuben’s mother. She is described as having “a wide, sallow, impassive face, lighted up by the occasional gleams of shrewdness from a pair of half-shut eyes” (4). One of the more jarring descriptions comes when Levy is describing Reuben’s aunt Ada. She says of her face, “and from its haggard gloom looked out two dark, restless, miserable eyes; the eyes of a creature in pain” (15). To me, these descriptions really give a deep sense of the character by revealing parts of them that may not be revealed through dialogue. Finally, Levy describes Judith by saying she possessed, “wonderful, lustrous, mournful eyes, entirely out of keeping with the accepted characteristics of their owner” (21). Eyes have the ability to show emotions and feelings, revealing parts of a character that are unknown to the reader.
All of this interesting descriptive language reminded me of the group who wrote about hands in Great Expectations. The article they chose stated that there were over 450 references to hands in the novel which served to create distinctions between the characters. The group talked about the difference between Pip’s course hands and Miss Havisham’s bejeweled hands. This apparently showcased the class difference between these two characters. I’m not really sure how much these connect with one another, other than a descriptive technique used by the authors, but I just found it interesting that in both works, the human anatomy reveals more about characters than first meets the eye.
In Oscar Wilde’s letter “De Profundis,” Wilde writes that some of the things he was accused of and sent to prison for were correct but some were not true at all. His letter, at least to me, seemed a little regretful as he expressed some of his misgivings and wrongdoings. However, he does say that the laws he has been convicted under are wrong and unjust laws. He goes on to say, “But, somehow, I have got to make both of these things just and right to me” (23). He realizes he won’t get any justice from the prison or those who make the laws, but he can create his own sense of justice after he is free. This reminds me of Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations who tells Pip about his life of crime and imprisonment. He wants to make Pip a gentleman and live vicariously through him in order to get justice for the things that have been done to him.
When Pip goes to see Miss Havisham and Estella presumably for one last time, he tells Estella once again about his love for her. She shakes her head at his confession and tells him that he will get her out of his head in a weeks time. To this, pip replies, “Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself” (Chapter 44, Paragraph 70). Pip has become so consumed with his love for Estella that he feels something is missing when she is not around. This reminds me of Wuthering Heights when Catherine tells Nelly that she is Heathcliff. The two are so intertwined that they are one in the same.
Further in Pip’s confession he remarks that he sees Estella, “on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets” (Chapter 44, Paragraph 70). He is so in love with Estella that he sees all of the good things about her in the world around him. This also occurs in Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff is lamenting over Catherine. He is haunted by the natural world because he sees Catherine in the clouds and the trees as well. Both men are surrounded by the images of their loved ones which I think goes to show the depth (or obsession) of the love the characters have for one another.
Although we don’t get the full story of Miss Havisham’s past, Herbert does tell Pip some things about her that he didn’t previously know, shedding a little bit of light onto her obscure past. We find out that the man she was supposed to marry, swindled her out of some money before leaving her at the altar. This scheme was devised by the man and Miss Havisham’s half brother Arthur, who apparently did not like her much. This story just reminded me so much of Heathcliff and his behavior of revenge against his adopted brother Hindley. He didn’t like the man so much that he vowed to exact revenge by any means possible and harbored these negative feelings around with him which ultimately led to the destruction of any relationship he had or could have had. It is definitely interesting to see how people cope with these traumas and find ways to manipulate others to fit their agendas, no matter the cost.
In Great Expectations, Pip is too young to be an apprentice to his sister’s husband, the blacksmith, so he completes random jobs to make money, none of which he ever sees. This money is assumed to be used to help contribute the household. When Pip is told he is expected to go to Miss Havisham’s house to play with her daughter Estella, Pip’s sister sends the boy with hopes that the rich matronly lady will pay Pip for his service, thus extending his fortune for the household. Pip is too young to be an apprentice, yet is expected to work odd jobs to help with the family’s income. This reminded me of the poem The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake where the child is sooty and broken spirited from laboring at such a young age. These young children shouldn’t be forced to work under such circumstances, and although Pip is only expected to play with Miss Havisham’s daughter, he undergoes beratement and humiliation, all for his sister’s hope that he will be paid.
In Darwin’s, On the Origin of Species, I came across a very interesting passage about chance vs. cultivation. Darwin writes about how when looking at different plants and bushes on a bank, we are tempted to attribute their positions to chance. Darwin further claims that this view is false and that when we look at the bank we should rather think of the plant’s struggles and cultivation to get such diversity. He says, “What a struggle must have gone on during long centuries between the several kinds of trees, each annually scattering its seeds by the thousand; what war between insect and insect–between insects, snails, and other animals with birds and beasts of prey–all striving to increase, all feeding on each other…” (6). To say the diversity (and maybe even the beauty) of the plants was just mere chance would be taking away from how these plants cultivated their own destiny and end result. The was much time, a struggle, and effort involved in this process.
This got me to think of the struggles between many of the characters in Wuthering Heights and the question of why Nelly, the narrator, delved so deeply into the actions of the characters when she was telling Lockwood about Heathcliff. To any passerby witnessing the “success” of Heathcliff (i.e. obtaining both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange), it may look like mere chance. People passed away, maybe left Heathcliff the homesteads, yadda yadda. Maybe to Nelly, the story of Catherine and Heathcliff was carefully cultivated by the character’s actions. They were the insects at war in Darwin’s description. It wasn’t just chance that lead to the deaths of Catherine and Heathcliff, it was a struggle. Perhaps Nelly unfolds this narrative so that people (like Lockwood) don’t take a false view on the circumstances and events at Wuthering Heights.
At the time the events of Wuthering Heights were taking place, the idea of Romanticism was combating ideals of the Enlightenment. Romanticism was an alternate source for hope where the spiritual could be found both in the natural world and inside of us as humans.
As the story of Wuthering Heights came to a close, Heathcliff’s life that was so driven by revenge and scorned feelings, seemed to drift into a need for escape. He tells Nelly that he sees Catherine, “in every cloud, in every tree” (chapter 33, paragraph 46) and this memory of her haunts him and makes life unbearable. Heathcliff does not see hope in these natural images but instead reminded of his lost love. After leading a life so bent on revenge, Heathcliff finally sees his life has no true meaning without Catherine. Heathcliff also tells Nelly, “I tell you I have nearly attained my heaven…” (chapter 34, paragraph 57) which is to die and be with the love of his life.
This just reminded me of a quote from Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus where Carlyle claims that we are all spirits that take the form of a body that “…revel[s] in our mad Dance of the Dead- till the scent of morning air summons us to our still Home” (paragraph 22). Heathcliff lived a great portion of his life angry and vengeful until he felt a summon to his own heaven, one where Catherine would be. Hints of the natural world (the clouds that reminded Heathcliff of Catherine and the scent of morning air) appear in Wuthering Heights and in Sartor Resartus. Although Heathcliff dies, he hold onto the hope that he will be reunited with Catherine.
Heathcliff’s son Linton seems so unlike his father in physical appearance that one might not even believe they are related. His blonde hair and physical ailments lead us as readers to believe he isn’t anything like the absent father figure. However, in a heated argument with Cathy regarding the topic of love, we see a side of Linton we hadn’t previously seen. Linton admits that he believes if the two were husband and wife, Cathy would love him more than anyone else (something he evidently wants). Cathy tells him she will lover her father more than anyone, which irritates Linton. Further in the argument, Linton tells Cathy that her mother hated her father but loved his. This infuriates Cathy who pushes Linton’s chair, causing him to fall and have a coughing fit. This event unleashes Linton’s hidden personality where he blames Cathy, won’t accept her apology, and wishes her a terrible night sleep thinking on her cruel actions.
Does this remind anyone of a certain someone who blamed Catherine for breaking his heart and wouldn’t accept her apology, even as she was clearly dying? Linton however, later apologizes to Cathy and admits that she is kind and he is deeply in love with her. He also admits that he cannot help but show his darker nature but regrets his words towards her and wants to make up for it. This, to me at least, shows he isn’t like Heathcliff at all. He recognizes his faults and wants to do right by Cathy.
Certain parts of the poem “The Steam King” by Edwin Mead remind me of Hindley Earnshaw from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. While I am not claiming that Hindley is comparable to the Industrial Revolution itself, there are certain parallels that can be drawn from the poem and bits and pieces of Hindley’s character.
In the poem, the Steam King is considered a tyrant, much like Hindley has become, especially after the death of his wife. The line “his bowels are of living fire, and children are his food” (11-12) reminds me of Hindley’s abuse towards Catherine, Heathcliff, and especially his own son whom he throws over a bannister in his drunken rage.
Finally, “the sighs and groans of Labour’s sons are music in their ear…” (21-22) reminds me of how poorly Hindley treats those he deems underneath him including his servants and especially Heathcliff.
However, the ending of the poem calls for “right” to prevail and ultimately the downfall of the Steam King. At this point in the book I’m not sure if there is hope for Hindley to change or mend his ways, but I’m rooting for him!